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B Y 

Katherine Anne Porter 


Copyright, 1936, 1937, and 1939, by 
Katherine Anne Porter 



Manufactiirr<i in thr of America 

By II Wolff 

T o Harrison Boone Porter 





Old Mortality 

Part I: 1885-1902 

SHE was a spirited-looking young woman, with dark 
curly hair cropped and parted on the side, a short oval 
face with straight eyebrows, and a large curved mouth. 
A round white collar rose from the neck of her tightly 
buttoned black basque, and round white cuffs set off 
lazy hands with dimples in them, lying at ease in the 
folds of her flounced skirt which gathered around to a 
bustle. She sat thus, forever in the pose of being photo- 
graphed, a motionless image in her dark walnut frame 
with silver oak leaves in the comers, her smiling gray 
eyes following one about the room. It was a reckless 
indifferent smile, rather disturbing to her nieces Maria 
and Miranda. Quite often they wondered why every 
older person who looked at the picture said, “How 
lovely”; and why everyone who had known her thought 
her so beautiful and charming. 

There was a kind of faded merriment in the back- 
ground, with its vase of flowers and draped velvet cur- 
tains, the kind of vase and the kind of curtains no one 
would have any more. The clothes were not even ro- 


Old Mortality 

mantic looking, but merely most terribly out of fashion, 
and the whole affair was associated, in the minds of the 
little girls, with dead things; the smell of Grandmother’s 
medicated cigarettes and her furniture that smelled of 
beeswax, and her old-fashioned perfume. Orange 
Flower. The woman in the picture had been Aunt Amy, 
but she was only a ghost in a frame, and a sad, pretty 
story from old times. She had been beautiful, much 
loved, unhappy, and she had died young. 

.Maria and Miranda, aged twelve and eight years, 
knew’ they w'crc young, though they felt they had lived 
a long time. They had lived not only their own years; 
but their memories, it seemed to them, began years be- 
fore they were born, in the lives of the grown-ups 
around them, old people above forty, most of them, w'ho 
had a way of insisting that they too had been young 
once. It w'as hard to believe. 

Their father was Aunt Amy’s brother Harry. She 
had been his favorite sister. He sometimes glanced at 
the photograph and said, “It’s not very good. Her hair 
and her smile were her chief beauties, and they aren’t 
shown at all. She was much slimmer than that, too. 
There were never any fat women in the family, thank 

When they heard their father say things like that, 
Maria and Miranda simply wondered, without criticism. 


Old Mortality 

what he meant. Their grandmother was thin as a match; 
the pictures of their mother, long since dead, proved her 
to have been a candle-wick, almost. Dashing young 
ladies, who turned out to be, to Miranda’s astonishment, 
merely more of Grandmother’s grandchildren, like her- 
self, came visiting from school for the holidays, boast- 
ing of their eighteen-inch waists. But how did their 
father account for great-aunt Eliza, who quite squeezed 
herself through doors, and who, when seated, was one 
solid pyramidal monument from floor to neck? What 
about great-aunt Keziah, in Kentucky? Her husband, 
great-uncle John Jacob, had refused to allow her to ride 
his good horses after she had achieved two hundred and 
twenty pounds. “No,” said great-uncle John Jacob, “my 
sentiments of chivalry are not dead in my bosom; but 
neither is my common sense, to say nothing of charity 
to our faithful dumb friends. And the greatest of these 
is charity.” It was suggested to great-uncle John Jacob 
that charity should forbid him to wound great-aunt 
Keziah’s female vanity by such a comment on her figure. 
“Female vanity will recover,” said great-uncle John 
Jacob, callously, “but what about my horses’ backs? 
And if she had the proper female vanity in the first 
place, she would never have got into such shape.” Well, 
great-aunt Keziah was famous for her heft, and wasn’t 
she in the family? But something seemed to happen to 

Old Mortality 

their father’s memory when he thought of the girls he 
had known in the family of his youth, and he declared 
steadfastly they had all been, in every generation with- 
out exception, as slim as reeds and graceful as sylphs. 

This loyalty of their father’s in the face of evidence 
contrary to his ideal had its springs in family feeling, 
and a love of legend that he shared with the others. 
They loved to tell stories, romantic and poetic, or comic 
with a romantic humor; they did not gild the outward 
circumstance, it was the feeling that mattered. Their 
hearts and imaginations were captivated by their past, 
a past in which worldly considerations had played a 
very minor role. Their stories were almost always love 
stories against a bright blank heavenly blue sky. 

Photographs, portraits by inept painters who meant 
earnestly to flatter, and the festival garments folded 
away in dried herbs and camphor were disappointing 
when the little girls tried to fit them to the living beings 
created in their minds by the breathing words of their 
elders. Grandmother, twice a year compelled in her 
blood by the change of seasons, would sit nearly all 
of one day beside old trunks and boxes in the lumber 
room, unfolding layers of garments and small keepsakes; 
she spread them out on sheets on the floor around her, 
crying over certain things, nearly always the same 
things, looking again at pictures in velvet cases, un- 


Old Mortality 

wrapping locks of hair and dried flowers, crying gcndy 
and easily as if tears were the only pleasure she had left. 

If Maria and Miranda were very quiet, and touched 
nothing until it was offered, they might sit by her at 
these times, or come and go. There was a tacit under- 
standing that her grief was strictly her own, and must 
not be noticed or mentioned. The little girls examined 
the objects, one by one, and did not find them, in them- 
selves, impressive. Such dowdy little wreaths and neck- 
laces, some of them made of pearly shells; such moth- 
eaten bunches of pink ostrich feathers for the hair; such 
clumsy big breast pins and bracelets of gold and colored 
enamel; such silly-looking combs, standing up on tall 
teeth capped with seed pearls and French paste. 
Miranda, without knowing why, felt melancholy. It 
seemed such a pity that these faded things, these yellowed 
long gloves and misshapen satin slippers, these broad rib- 
bons cracking where they were folded, should have 
been all those vanished girls had to decorate themselves 
with. And where were they now, those girls, and the 
boys in the odd-looking collars? The young men seemed 
even more unreal than the girls, with their high-buttoned 
coats, their puffy neckties, their waxed mustaches, their 
waving thick hair combed carefully over their foreheads. 
Who could have taken them seriously, looking like that? 

No, Maria and Miranda found it impossible to sym* 


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pathize with those young persons, sitting rather stiffly 
before the camera, hopelessly out of fashion; but they 
were drawn and held by the mysterious love of the liv- 
ing, who remembered and cherished these dead. The vis- 
ible remains were nothing; they were dust, perishable as 
the flesh; the features stamped on paper and metal were 
nothing, but their living memory enchanted the little 
girls. They listened, all cars and eager minds, picking 
here and there among the floating ends of narrative, 
patching together as well as they could fragments of 
tales that were like bits of poetry or music, indeed were 
associated with the poetry they had heard or read, with 
music, with the theater. 

“Tell me again how Aunt Amy went away when she 
was married.” “She ran into the gray cold and stepped 
into the carriage and turned and smiled with her face as 
pale as death, and called out ‘Good-by, good-by,’ and 
refused her cloak, and said, ‘Give me a glass of wine.’ 
And none of us saw her alive again.” “Why wouldn’t 
she wear her cloak. Cousin Cora?” “Because she was not 
in love, my dear.” Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate, 
that time will come and take my love away. “Was she 
really beautiful. Uncle Bill?” “As an angel, my child.” 
There were golden-haired angels with long blue pleated 
skirts dancing around the throne of the Blessed Virgin. 
None of them resembled Aunt Amy in the least, nor the 


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type of beauty they had been brought up to admire. 
There were points of beauty by which one was judged 
severely. First, a beauty must be tall; whatever color the 
eyes, the hair must be dark, the darker the better; the 
skin must be pale and smooth. Lightness and swiftness 
of movement were important points. A beauty must be 
a good dancer, superb on horseback, with a serene man- 
ner, an amiable gaiety tempered with dignity at all 
hours. Beautiful teeth and hands, of course, and over and 
above all this, some mysterious crown of enchantment 
that attracted and held the heart. It was all very excit- 
ing and discouraging. 

Miranda persisted through her childhood in believing, 
in spite of her smallness, thinness, her little snubby nose 
saddled with freckles, her speckled gray eyes and habit- 
ual tantrums, that by some miracle she would grow into 
a tall, cream-colored brunette, like cousin Isabel; she de- 
cided always to wear a trailing white satin gown. Maria, 
born sensible, had no such illusions. “We are going to 
take after Mamma’s family,” she said. “It’s no use, we 
arc. We’ll never be beautiful, we’ll always have freckles. 
And you,” she told Aliranda, “haven’t even a good dis- 

Miranda admitted both truth and justice in this un- 
kindness, but still secretly believed that she would one 
day suddenly receive beauty, as by inheritance, riches 


Old Mortality 

laid suddenly in her hands through no deserts of hec 
own. She believed for quite a while that she would one 
day be like Aunt Amy, not as she appeared in the pho- 
tograph, but as she was remembered by those who had 
seen her. 

When Cousin Isabel came out in her tight black rid- 
ing habit, surrounded by young men, and mounted 
gracefully, drawing her horse up and around so that he 
pranced learnedly on one spot while the other riders 
sprang to their saddles in the same sedate flurry, Miran- 
da’s heart would close with such a keen dart of admira- 
tion, envy, vicarious pride it was almost painful; but 
there would always be an elder present to lay a cooling 
hand upon her emotions. “She rides almost as well as 
Amy, doesn’t she? But Amy had the pure Spanish style, 
she could bring out paces in a horse no one else knew 
he had.’’ Young namesake Amy, on her way to a dance, 
would swish through the hall in ruffled white taffeta, 
glimmering like a moth in the lamplight, carrying her 
elbows pointed backward stiffly as wings, sliding along 
as if she were on rollers, in the fashionable walk of her 
day. She was considered the best dancer at any party, 
and Maria, sniffing the wave of perfume that followed 
Amy, would clasp her hands and say, “Oh, I can’t wait 
to be grown up.’’ But the ciders would agree that the 
first Amy had been lighter, more smooth and delicate 


Old Mortality 

in her waltzing; young Amy would never equal her, 
Cousin Molly Farrington, far past her youth, indeed she 
belonged to the generation before Aunt Amy, was a 
noted charmer. Men who had known her all her life 
still gathered about her; now that she was happily wid- 
owed for the second time there was no doubt that she 
would yet marry again. But Amy, said the elders, had 
the same high spirits and wit without boldness, and you 
really could not say that Molly had ever been discreet. 
She dyed her hair, and made jokes about it. She had a 
way of collecting the men around her in a corner, where 
she told them stories. She was an unnatural mother to 
her ugly daughter Eva, an old maid past forty while hei 
mother was still the belle of the ball. “Born when I was 
fifteen, you remember,” Molly would say shamelessly, 
looking an old beau straight in the eye, both of them 
remembering that he had been best man at her first wed- 
ding when she was past twenty-one. “Everyone said 1 
was like a little girl with her doll.” 

Eva, shy and chinlcss, straining her upper lip over two 
enormous teeth, would sit in corners watching her 
mother. She looked hungry, her eyes w’ere strained and 
tired. She wore her mother’s old clothes, made over, and 
taught Latin in a Female Seminary. She believed in votes 
for women, and had traveled about, making speeches. 
When her mother was not present, Eva bloomed out a 

Old Mortality 

little, danced prettily, smiled, showing all her teeth, and 
was like a dry little plant set out in a gentle rain. Molly 
was merry about her ugly duckling. “It’s lucky for me 
my daughter is an old maid. She’s not so apt,” said Molly 
naughtily, “to make a grandmother of me.” Eva would 
blush as if she had been slapped. 

Eva was a blot, no doubt about it, but the little girls 
felt she belonged to their everyday world of dull lessons 
to be learned, stiff shoes to be limbered up, scratchy 
flannels to be endured in cold weather, measles and dis- 
appointed expectations. Their Aunt Amy belonged to 
the world of poetry. The romance of Uncle Gabriel’s 
long, unrewarded love for her, her early death, was such 
a story as one found in old books: unworldly books, but 
true, such as the Vita Nuova, the Sonnets of Shake- 
speare and the Wedding Song of Spenser; and poems by 
Edgar Allan Poe. “Her tantalized spirit now blandly re- 
poses, Forgetting or never regretting its roses. . . .” 
Their father read that to them, and said, “He was our 
greatest poet,” and they knew that “our” meant he was 
Southern. Aunt Amy was real as the pictures in the old 
Holbein and Diirer books were real. The little girls lay 
flat on their stomachs and peered into a world of won- 
der, turning the shabby leaves that fell apart easily, not 
surprised at the sight of the Mother of God sitting on a 
hf>llow log nursing her Child; not doubting either Death 


Old Mortality 

or the Devil riding at the stirrups of the grim knight; not 
questioning the propriety of the stiffly dressed ladies of 
Sir Thomas More’s household, seated in dignity on the 
floor, or seeming to be. They missed all the dog and 
pony shows, and lantern-slide entertainments, but their 
father took them to see “Hamlet,” and “The Taming of 
the Shrew,” and “Richard the Third,” and a long sad 
play with Mary, Queen of Scots, in it. Miranda thought 
the magnificent lady in black velvet was truly the Queen 
of Scots, and was pained to learn that the real Queen 
had died long ago, and not at all on the night she, 
Miranda, had been present. 

The little girls loved the theater, that world of per- 
sonages taller than human beings, who swept upon the 
scene and invested it with their presences, their more 
than human voices, their gestures of gods and goddesses 
ruling a universe. But there was always a voice recalling 
other and greater occasions. Grandmother in her youth 
had heard Jenny Lind, and thought that Nellie Melba 
was much overrated. Father had seen Bernhardt, and 
Madame Modjeska was no sort of rival. When Paderew- 
ski played for the first time in their city, cousins came 
from all over the state and went from the grandmother’s 
house to hear him. The little girls were left out of this 
great occasion. They shared the excitement of the going 
away, and shared the beautiful moment of return, when 


Old Mortality 

cousins stood about in groups, with coffee cups and 
glasses in their hands, talking in low voices, awed and 
happy. The little girls, struck with the sense of a great 
event, hung about in their nightgowns and listened, un- 
til someone noticed and hustled them away from the 
sweet nimbus of all that glory. One old gentleman, how- 
ever, had heard Rubinstein frequently. He could not 
but feel that Rubinstein had reached the final height of 
musical interpretation, and, for him, Paderewski had 
been something of an anticlimax. The little girls heard 
him muttering on, holding up one hand, patting the air 
as if he were calling for silence. The others looked at 
him, and listened, without any disturbance of their grave 
tender mood. They had never heard Rubinstein; they 
had, one hour since, heard Paderewski, and why should 
onyone need to recall the past? Miranda, dragged away, 
half understanding the old gentleman, hated him. She 
felt that she too had heard Paderewski. 

There was then a life beyond a life in this wdrld, as 
well as in the next; such episodes confirmed for the little 
girls the nobility of human feeling, the divinity of man’s 
vision of the unseen, the importance of life and death, 
the depths of the human heart, the romantic value of 
tragedy. Cousin Eva, on a certain visit, trying to in- 
terest them in the study of Latin, told them the story 
of John Wilkes Booth, who, handsomely garbed in a 

Old Mortality 

long black cloak, had leaped to the stage after assassinat- 
ing President Lincoln. “Sic semper tyrannis,” he had 
shouted superbly, in spite of his broken leg. The little 
girls never doubted that it had happened in just that 
way, and the moral seemed to be that one should always 
have Latin, or at least a good classical poetry quotation, 
to depend upon in great or desperate moments. Cousin 
Eva reminded them that no one, not even a good South- 
erner, could possibly approve of John Wilkes Booth’s 
deed. It was murder, after all. They were to remember 
that. But Miranda, used to tragedy in books and in fam- 
ily legends— two great-uncles had committed suicide and 
a remote ancestress had gone mad for love— decided that, 
without the murder, there would have been no point to 
dressing up and leaping to the stage shouting in Latin. 
So how could she disapprove of the deed? It was a fine 
story. She knew a distantly related old gentleman who 
had been devoted to the art of Booth, had seen him in a 
great many plays, but not, alas, at his greatest moment 
Miranda regretted this; it would have been so pleasant to 
have the assassination of Lincoln in the family. 

Uncle Gabriel, who had loved Aunt Amy so desper- 
ately, still lived somewhere, though Miranda and Maria 


Old Mortality 

had never seen him. He had gone away, far away, after 
her death. He still owned racehorses, and ran them at 
famous tracks all over the country, and Miranda be- 
lieved there could not possibly be a more brilliant career. 
He had married again, quite soon, and had written to 
Grandmother, asking her to accept his new wife as a 
daughter in place of Amy. Grandmother had written 
coldly, accepting, inviting them for a visit, but Uncle 
Gabriel had somehow never brought his bride home. 
Harry had visited them in New Orleans, and reported 
that the second wife was a very good-looking well-bred 
blonde girl who would undoubtedly be a good wife for 
Gabriel. Still, Uncle Gabriel’s heart was broken. Faith- 
fully once a year he wrote a letter to someone of the 
family, sending money for a wreath for Amy’s grave. 
He had written a poem for her gravestone, and had 
come home, leaving his second wife in Atlanta, to see 
that it was carved properly. He could never account for 
having written this poem; he had certainly never tried 
to write a single rhyme since leaving school. Yet one day 
when he had been thinking about Amy, the verse oc- 
curred to him, out of the air. Maria and Miranda had 
seen it, printed in gold on a mourning card. Uncle Ga- 
briel had sent a great number of them to be handed 
around among the family. 


Old Mortality 

“She lives again who suffered life, 

Then suffered death, and now set free 
A singing angel, she forgets 
The griefs of old mortality.” 

“Did she really sing? ” Maria asked her father. 

“Now what has that to do with it?” he asked. “It’s a 

“I think it’s very pretty,” said Miranda, impressed. 
Uncle Gabriel was second cousin to her father and Aunt 
Amy. It brought poetry very near. 

“Not so bad for tombstone poetry,” said their father, 
“but it should be better.” 

Uncle Gabriel had waited five years to marry Aunt 
Amy. She had been ill, her chest was weak; she was en- 
gaged twice to other young men and broke her engage- 
ments for no reason; and she laughed at the advice of 
older and kinder-hearted persons who thought it very 
capricious of her not to return the devotion of such a 
handsome and romantic young man as Gabriel, her sec- 
ond cousin, too; it was not as if she would be marrying 
a stranger. Her coldness was said to have driven Gabriel 
to a wild life and even to drinking. His grandfather was 
wealthy and Gabriel was his favorite; they had quarreled 
over the racehorses, and Gabriel had shouted, “By God, 
I must have something” As if he had not everything al- 


Old Mortality 

ready: youth, health, good looks, the prospect of riches, 
and a devoted family circle. His grandfather pointed out 
to him that he was little better than an ingrate, and 
showed signs of being a wastrel as well. Gabriel said, 
“You had racehorses, and made a good thing of them.” 
“I never depended upon them for a livelihood, sir,” said 
his grandfather. 

Gabriel wrote letters about this and many other thmgs 
to Amy from Saratoga and from Kentucky and from 
New Orleans, sending her presents, and flowers packed 
in ice, and telegrams. The presents were amusing, such 
as a huge cage full of small green lovebirds; or, as an 
ornament for her hair, a full-petaled enameled rose with 
paste dewdrops, with an enameled butterfly in brilliant 
colors suspended quivering on a gold wire about it; but 
the telegrams always frightened her mother, and the 
flowers, after a journey by train and then by stage into 
the country, were much the worse for wear. He would 
send roses when the rose garden at home was in full 
bloom. Amy could not help smiling over it, though 
her mother insisted it was touching and sweet of Ga- 
briel. It must prove to Amy that she was always in his 

“That’s no place for me,” said Amy, but she had a 
way of speaking, a tone of voice, which made it impos- 
sible to discover what she meant by what she said. It was 


Old Mortality 

possible always that she might be serious. And she would 
not answer questions. 

“Amy’s wedding oress,” said the grandmother, unfurl- 
ing an immense cloak of dove-colored cut velvet, spread' 
ing beside it a silvery-gray watered-silk frock, and a 
small gray velvet toque with a dark red breast of feath- 
ers. Cousin Isabel, the beauty, sat with her. They talked 
to each other, and Miranda could listen if she chose. 

“She would not wear white, nor a veil,” said Grand- 
mother. “I couldn’t oppose her, for I had said my 
daughters should each have exactly the wedding dress 
they wanted. But Amy surprised me. ‘Now what would 
I look like in white satin?’ she asked. It’s true she was 
pale, but she would have been angelic in it, and all of us 
told her so. ‘I shall wear mourning if I like,’ she said, ‘it 
is my funeral, you know.’ I reminded her that Lou and 
your mother had worn white with veils and it would 
please me to have my daughters all alike in that. Amy 
said, ‘Lou and Isabel are not like me,’ but I could not 
persuade her to explain what she meant. One day when 
she was ill she said, ‘Mammy, I’m not long for this 
world,’ but not as if she meant it. I told her, ‘You might 
live as long as anyone, if only you will be sensible.’ 
‘That’s the whole trouble,’ said Amy. ‘I feel sorry for 


Old Mortality 

Gabriel,’ she told me. ‘He doesn’t know what he’s ask- 
ing for.’ 

“I tried to tell her once more,” said the grandmother, 
“that marriage and children would cure her of every- 
thing. ‘All women of our family are delicate when they 
are young,’ I said. ‘Why, when I was your age no one 
expected me to live a year. It was called greensickness, 
and everybody knew there was only one cure.’ ‘If I live 
for a hundred years and turn green as grass,’ said Amy, 
‘I still shan’t want to marry Gabriel.’ So I told her very 
seriously that if she truly felt that way she must never 
do it, and Gabriel must be told once for all, and sent 
away. He would get over it. ‘I have told him, and I have 
sent him away,’ said Amy. ‘He just doesn’t listen.’ We 
both laughed at that, and I told her young girls found a 
hundred ways to deny they wished to be married, and 
a thousand more to test their power over men, but that 
she had more than enough of that, and now it was time 
for her to be entirely sincere and make her decision. As 
for me,” said the grandmother, “I wished with all heart 
to marry your grandfather, and if he had not asked me, 
I should have asked him most certainly. Amy insisted 
that she could not imagine wanting to marry anybody. 
She would be, she said, a nice old maid like Eva Farring- 
ton. For even then it was pretty plain that Eva was an 
jld maid, bom. Harry said, ‘Oh, Eva— Eva has no chin, 



Old Mortality 

that’s her trouble. If you had no chin, Amy, you’d be in 
the same fix as Eva, no doubt.’ Your Uncle Bill would 
say, ‘When women haven’t anything else, they’ll take a 
vote for consolation. A pretty thin bed-fellow,’ said your 
Uncle Bill. ‘What I really need is a good dancing part- 
ner to guide me through life,’ said Amy, ‘that’s the 
match I’m looking for.’ It was no good trying to talk 
to her.” 

Her brothers remembered her tenderly as a sensible 
girl. After listening to their comments on her character 
and ways, Maria decided that they considered her sen- 
sible because she asked their advice about her appear- 
ance when she was going out to dance. If they found 
fault in any way, she would change her dress or her hair 
until they were pleased, and say, “You are an angel not 
to let your poor sister go out looking like a freak.” But 
she would not listen to her father, nor to Gabriel. If Ga- 
briel praised the frock she was wearing, she was apt to 
disappear and come back in another. He loved her long 
black hair, and once, lifting it up from her pillow when 
she was ill, said, “I love your hair, Amy, the most beauti- 
ful hair in the world.” When he returned on his next 
visit, he found her with her hair cropped and curled 
close to her head. He was horrified, as if she had w'ill- 
fully mutilated herself. She would not let it grow again, 
not even to please her brothers. The photograph hang- 


Old Mortality 

ing on the wall was one she had made at that time to 
send to Gabriel, who sent it back without a word. This 
pleased her, and she framed the photograph. There was a 
thin inky scrawl low in one corner, “To dear brother 
Harry, who likes my hair cut.” 

This was a mischievous reference to a very grave 
scandal. The little girls used to look at their father, and 
wonder what would have happened if he had really hit 
the young man he shot at. The young man was believed 
to have kissed Aunt Amy, when she was not in the least 
engaged to him. Uncle Gabriel was supposed to have had 
a duel with the young man, but Father had got there 
first. He was a pleasant, everyday sort of father, who 
held his daughters on his knee if they were prettily 
dressed and well behaved, and pushed them away if they 
had not freshly combed hair and nicely scrubbed finger- 
nails. “Go away, you’re disgusting,” he would say, in a 
matter-of-fact voice. He noticed if their stocking seams 
were crooked. He caused them to brush their teeth with 
a revolting mixture of prepared chalk, powdered char- 
coal and salt. When they behaved stupidly he could not 
endure the sight of them. They understood dimly that 
all this was for their own future good; and when they 
were snivelly with colds, he prescribed delicious hot 
toddy for them, and saw that it was given them. He was 
always hoping they might not grow up to be so silly as 


Old Mortality 

they seemed to him at any given moment, and he had a 
disconcerting way of inquiring, “How do you knonv?^^ 
when they forgot and made dogmatic statements in his 
presence. It always came out embarrassingly that they 
did not know at all, but were repeating something they 
had heard. This made conversation with him difficult, 
for he laid traps and they fell into them, but it became 
important to them that their father should not believe 
them to be fools. Well, this very father had gone to 
Mexico once and stayed there for nearly a year, because 
he had shot at a man with whom Aunt Amy had flirted 
at a dance. It had been very wrong of him, because he 
should have challenged the man to a duel, as Uncle Ga- 
briel had done. Instead, he just took a shot at him, and 
this was the lowest sort of manners. It had caused great 
disturbance in the whole community and had almost 
broken up the affair between Aunt Amy and Uncle Ga- 
briel for good. Uncle Gabriel insisted that the young 
man had kissed Aunt Amy, and Aunt Amy insisted that 
the young man had merely paid her a compliment on her 

During the Alardi Gras holidays there was to be a big 
gay fancy-dress ball. Harry was going as a bull-fighter 
because his sweetheart, Mariana, had a new black lace 
mantilla and high comb from Mexico. Maria and 
Miranda had seen a photograph of their mother in this 


Old Mortality 

dress, her lovely face without a trace of coquetry look- 
ing gravely out from under a tremendous fall of lace 
from the peak of the comb, a rose tucked firmly over 
her ear. Amy copied her costume from a small Dresden- 
china shepherdess which stood on the mantelpiece in 
the parlor; a careful copy with ribboned hat, gilded 
crook, very low-laced bodice, short basket skirts, green 
slippers and all. She wore it with a black half-mask, but 
it was no disguise. “You would have known it was Amy 
at any distance,” said Father. Gabriel, six feet three in 
height as he was, had got himself up to match, and a 
spectacle he provided in pale blue satin knee breeches 
and a blond curled wig with a hair ribbon. “He felt a 
fool, and he looked like one,” said Uncle Bill, “and he 
behaved like one before the evening was over.” 

Everything went beautifully until the party gathered 
downstairs to leave for the ball. Amy’s father— he must 
have been bom a grandfather, thought Miranda— gave 
one glance at his daughter, her white ankles shining, 
bosom deeply exposed, two round spots of paint on her 
cheeks, and fell into a frenzy of outraged propriety. 
“It’s disgraceful,” he pronounced, loudly. “No daughter 
of min'e is going to show herself in such a rig-out. It’s 
bawdy,” he thundered. “Bawdy!” 

Amy had taken off her mask to smile at him. “Why, 
Papa,” she said very sweetly, “what’s wrong with it? 


Old Mortality 

Look on the mantelpiece. She’s been there all along, and 
you were never shocked before,” 

“There’s all the difference in the world,” said her 
father, “all the difference, young lady, and you know it. 
You go upstairs this minute and pin up that waist in 
front and let down those skirts to a decent length before 
you leave this house. And wash your jaceT 

“I see nothing wrong with it,” said Amy’s mother, 
firmly, “and you shouldn’t use such language before in- 
nocent young girls.” She and Amy sat down with sev- 
eral females of the household to help, and they made 
short work of the business. In ten minutes Amy re- 
turned, face clean, bodice filled in with lace, shepherdess 
skirt modestly sweeping the carpet behind her. 

When Amy appeared from the dressing room for her 
first dance with Gabriel, the lace was gone from her 
bodice, her skirts were tucked up more daringly than 
before, and the spots on her checks were like pomegran- 
ates. “Now Gabriel, tell me truly, wouldn’t it have been 
a pity to spoil my costume?” Gabriel, delighted that she 
had asked his opinion, declared it was perfect. They 
agreed with kindly tolerance that old people were often 
tiresome, but one need not upset them by open disobedi- 
ence: their youth was gone, what had they to live for? 

Harry, dancing with A'lariana who swung a heavy 
train around her expertly at every turn of the waltz, be- 

2 ? 

Old Mortality 

gan to be uneasy about his sister Amy. She was entirely 
too popular. He saw young men make beelines across 
the floor, eyes fixed on those white silk ankles. Some of 
the young men he did not know at all, others he knew 
too well and could not approve of for his sister Amy. 
Gabriel, unhappy in his lyric satin and wig, stood about 
holding his ribboned crook as though it had sprouted 
thorns. He hardly danced at all with Amy, he did not 
enjoy dancing with anyone else, and he was having a 
thoroughly wretched time of it. 

There appeared late, alone, got up as Jean Lafitte, a 
young Creole gentleman who had, two years before, 
been for a time engaged to Amy. He came straight to 
her, with the manner of a happy lover, and said, clearly 
enough for everyone near by to hear him, “I only came 
because I knew you were to be here. I only want to 
dance with you and I shall go again.” Amy, with a face 
of delight, cried out, “Raymond!” as if to a lover. She 
had danced with him four times, and had then disap- 
peared from the floor on his arm. 

Harry and Mariana, in conventional disguise of ro- 
mance, irreproachably betrothed, safe in their happiness, 
were waltzing slowly to their favorite song, the melan- 
choly farewell of the Moorish King on leaving Granada. 
They sang in whispers to each other, in their uncertain 
Spanish, a .song of love and parting and that sword’s 


Old Mortality 

point of grief that makes the heart tender towards all 
other lost and disinherited creatures; Oh, mansion of 
love, my earthly paradise . . . that I shall see no more 
. . . whither flies the poor swallow, weary and home- 
less, seeking for shelter where no shelter is? I too am far 
from home without the power to fly. . . . Come to my 
heart, sweet bird, beloved pilgrim, build your nest near 
my bed, let me listen to your song, and weep for my lost 
land of joy. . . . 

Into this bliss broke Gabriel. He had thrown away his 
shepherd’s crook and he was carrying his wig. He 
wanted to speak to Harry at once, and before Mariana 
knew what was happening she was sitting beside her 
mother and the two excited young men were gone. 
Waiting, disturbed and displeased, she smiled at Amy 
who waltzed past with a young man in Devil costume, 
including ill-fitting scarlet cloven hoofs. Almost at once, 
Harry and Gabriel came back, with serious faces, and 
Harry darted on the dance floor, returning with Amy. 
The girls and the chaperones were asked to come at 
once, they must be taken home. It was all mysterious and 
sudden, and Harry said to Mariana, “I will tell you what 
is happening, but not now—” 

The grandmother remembered of this disgraceful af- 
fair only that Gabriel brought Amy home alone and that 
Harry came in somewhat later. The other members of 


Old Mortality 

the party straggled in at various hours, and the story 
came out piecemeal. Amy was silent and, her mother 
discovered later, burning with fever. “I saw at once that 
something was very wrong. ‘What has happened, Amy?’ 
‘Oh, Harry goes about shooting at people at a party,’ 
she said, sitting down as if she Avere exhausted. ‘It was 
on your account, Amy,’ said Gabriel. ‘Oh, no, it was 
not,’ said Amy. ‘Don’t believe him. Mammy.’ So I said, 
‘Now enough of this. Tell me what happened, Amy. 
And Amy said, ‘Mammy, this is it. Raymond came in, 
and you know I like Raymond, and he is a good dancer. 
So we danced together, too much, maybe. We went on 
the gallery for a breath of air, and stood there. He said. 
“How well your hair looks. I like this new shingled 
style.” ’ She glanced at Gabriel. ‘And then another 
young man came out and said, “I’ve been looking es^ery- 
where. This is our dance, isn’t it?” And I went in to 
dance. And now it seems that Gabriel went out at once 
and challenged Raymond to a duel about something or 
other, but Harry doesn’t wait for that. Raymond had 
already gone out to have his horse brought, I suppose 
one doesn’t duel in fancy dress,’ she said, looking at Ga- 
briel, who fairly shriveled in his blue satin shepherd’s 
costume, ‘and Harry simply went out and shot at him. I 
don’t think that was fair,’ said Amy.” 

Her mother agreed that indeed it was not fair; it was 

Old Mortality 

not even decent, and she could not imagine what hei 
son Harry thought he was doing. “It isn’t much of a 
way to defend your sister’s honor,” she said to him after- 
ward. “I didn’t want Gabriel to go fighting duels,” said 
Harry. “That wouldn’t have helped much, either.” 

Gabriel had stood before Amy, leaning over, asking 
once more the question he had apparently been asking 
her all the way home. “Did he kiss you, Amy?” 

Amy took off her shepherdess hat and pushed her hair 
back. “Maybe he did,” she answered, “and maybe I 
wished him to.” 

“Amy, you must not say such things,” said her 
mother. “Answer Gabriel’s question.” 

“He hasn’t the right to ask it,” said Amy, but without 

“Do you love him, Amy?” asked Gabriel, the sweat 
standing out on his forehead. 

“It doesn’t matter,” answered Amy, leaning back in 
her chair. 

“Oh, it docs matter; it matters terribly,” said Gabriel. 
“You must answer me now.” He took both of her hands 
and tried to hold them. She drew her hands away firmly 
and steadily so that he had to let go. 

“Let her alone, Gabriel,” said Amy’s mother. “You’d 
better go now. We are all tired. Let’s talk about it to- 


Old Mortality 

She helped Amy to undress, noticing the changed 
bodice and the shortened skirt. “You shouldn’t have 
done that, Amy. That was not wise of you. It was better 
the other way.” 

Amy said, “Mammy, I’m sick of this world. I don’t 
like anything in it. It’s so dull,'' she said, and for a mo- 
ment she looked as if she might weep. She had never 
been tearful, even as a child, and her mother was alarmed. 
It was then she discovered that Amy had fever. 

“Gabriel is dull. Mother— he sulks,” she said. “I could 
see him sulking every time I passed. It spoils things,” she 
said. “Oh, I want to go to sleep.” 

Her mother sat looking at her and wop^ering how 
it had happened she had brought such a beautiful child 
into the world. “Her face,” said her mother, “was an- 
gelic in sleep.” 

Some time during that fevered night, the projected 
duel between Gabriel and Raymond was halted by the 
offices of friends on both sides. There remained the open 
question of Harry’s impulsive shot, which was not so 
easily settled. Raymond seemed vindictive about that, it 
was possible he might choose to make trouble. Harry, 
taking the advice of Gabriel, his brothers and friends, 
decided that the best way to avoid further scandal was 
for him to disappear for a while. This being decided 


Old Mortality 

upon, the young men returned about daybreak, saddled 
Harry’s best horse and helped him pack a few things; 
accompanied by Gabriel and Bill, Harry set out for the 
border, feeling rather gay and adventurous. 

Amy, being wakened by the stirring in the house, 
found out the plan. Five minutes after they were gone, 
she came down in her riding dress, had her own horse 
saddled, and struck out after them. She rode almost 
every morning; before her parents had time to be uneasy 
over her prolonged absence, they found her note. 

What had threatened to be a tragedy became a rowdy 
lark. Amy rode to the border, kissed her brother Harry 
good-by, and rode back again with Bill and Gabriel. It 
was a three days’ journey, and when they arrived Amy 
had to be lifted from the saddle. She was really ill by 
now, but in the gayest of humors. Her mother and 
father had been prepared to be severe with her, but, at 
sight of her, their feelings changed. They turned on Bill 
and Gabriel. “Why did you let her do this?” they 

“You know we could not stop her,” said Gabriel help- 
lessly, “and she did enjoy herself so much!” 

Amy laughed. “Mammy, it was splendid, the most de- 
lightful trip I ever had. And if I am to be the heroine of 
this novel, why shouldn't i make the most of it?” 


Old Mortality 

The scandal, Maria and Miranda gathered, had been 
pretty terrible. Amy simply took to bed and stayed 
there, and Harry had skipped out blithely to wait until 
the little affair blew over. The rest of the family had 
to receive visitors, write letters, go to church, return 
calls, and bear the whole brunt, as they expressed it. 
They sat in the tv/ilight of scandal in their little world, 
holding themselves very rigidly, in a shared tension as 
if all their nerves began at a common center. This cen- 
ter had received a blow, and family nerves shuddered, 
even into the farthest reaches of Kentucky. From 
whence in due time great-great-aunt Sally Rhea ad- 
dressed a letter to Mifs Amy Rhea. In deep brown ink 
like dried blood, in a spidery hand adept at archaic sym- 
bols and abbreviations, great-great-aunt Sally informed 
Amy that she was fairly convinced that this calamity 
was only the forerunner of a series shortly to be visited 
by the Almighty God upon a race already condemned 
through its own wickedness, a warning that man’s time 
was short, and that they must all prepare for the end 
of the world. For herself, she had long expected it, she 
was entirely resigned to the prospect of meeting her 
Maker; and Amy, no less than her wicked brother 
Harry, must likewise place herself in God’s hands and 
prepare for the worst. “Ob, vty dear un\ortxmate yoxmg 
relative” twittered great-great-aunt Sally, “'lye must in 


Old Mortality 

our Extremty join hands and appr before ye Dread 
Throne of Jdgnmt a United Fvtly, if One is Mssg from 
ye Flock, what will Jesus say?" 

Great-great-aunt Sally’s religious career had become 
comic legend. She had forsaken her Catholic rearing for 
a young man whose family were Cumberland Presby- 
terians. Unable to accept their opinions, however, she 
was converted to the Hard-Shell Baptists, a sect as loath- 
some to her husband’s family as the Catholic could pos- 
sibly be. She had spent a life of vicious self-indulgent 
martyrdom to her faith; as Harry commented: “Reli- 
gion put claws on Aunt Sally and gave her a post to 
whet them on.” She had out-argued, out-fought, and 
out-lived her entire generation, but she did not miss 
them. She bedeviled the second generation without ceas- 
ing, and was beginning hungrily on the third. 

Amy, reading this letter, broke into her gay full laugh 
that always caused everyone around her to laugh too, 
even before they knew why, and her small green love- 
birds in their cage turned and eyed her solemnly. “Imag- 
ine drawing a pew in heaven beside Aunt Sally,” she 
said. “What a prospect.” 

“Don’t laugh too soon,” said her father. “Heaven was 
made to order for Aunt Sally. She’ll be on her own terri- 
tory there.” 


Old Mortality 

“For my sins,” said Amy, “I must go to heaven with 
Aunt Sally.” 

During the uncomfortable time of Harry’s absence, 
Amy went on refusing to marry Gabriel. Her mother 
could hear their voices going on in their endless col- 
loquy, during many long days. One afternoon Gabriel 
came out, looking very sober and discouraged. He stood 
looking down at Amy’s mother as she sat sewing, and 
•said, “I think it is all over, I believe now that Amy will 
never have me.” The grandmother always said after- 
ward, “Never have I pitied anyone as I did poor Gabriel 
at that moment. But I told him, very firmly, ‘Let her 
alone, then, she is ill.’ ” So Gabriel left, and Amy had no 
word from him for more than a month. 

The day after Gabriel was gone, Amy rose looking 
extremely well, went hunting with her brothers Bill and 
Stephen, bought a velvet wrap, had her hair shingled and 
curled again, and wrote long letters to Harry, who was 
having a most enjoyable exile in Mexico City. 

After dancing all night three times in one week, she 
woke one morning in a hemorrhage. She seemed fright- 
ened and asked for the doctor, promising to do what- 
ever he advised. She was quiet for a few days, reading. 
She asked for Gabriel. No one knew where he was. 
“You should write him a letter; his mother will send it 


Old Mortality 

on.” “Oh, no,” she said. “I miss him coming in with his 
sour face. Letters are no good.” 

Gabriel did come in, only a few days later, with a 
very sour face and unpleasant news. His grandfather had 
died, after a day’s illness. On his death bed, in the name 
of God, being of a sound and disposing mind, he had cut 
off his favorite grandchild Gabriel with one dollar. “In 
the name of God, Amy,” said Gabriel, “the old devil 
has ruined me in one sentence.” 

It was the conduct of his immediate family in the mat- 
ter that had embittered him, he said. They could hardly 
conceal their satisfaction. They had known and envied 
Gabriel’s quite just, well-founded expectations. Not one 
of them offered to make any private settlement. No one 
even thought of repairing this last-minute act of senile 
vengeance. Privately they blessed their luck. “I have 
been cut off with a dollar,” said Gabriel, “and they are 
all glad of it. I think they feel somehow that this justiffes 
every criticism they ever made against me. They were 
right about me all along. I am a worthless poor relation,” 
said Gabriel. “My God, I wish you could see them.” 

Amy said, “I wonder how you will ever support a 
wife, now.” 

Gabriel said, “Oh, it isn’t so bad as that. If you woulc^ 


Old Mortality 

Amy said, “Gabriel, if we get married now there’ll be 
just time to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. If we 
wait until after Lent, it may be too late.” 

“Why, Amy,” said Gabriel, “how could it ever be 
too late?” 

“You might change your mind,” said Amy. “You 
know how fickle you are.” 

There v’ere two letters in the grandmother’s many pack- 
ets of letters that Maria and Miranda read after they were 
grown. One of them was from Amy. It was dated ten 
days after her marriage. 

“Dear Mammy, New Orleans hasn’t changed as much 
as I have since we saw each other last. I am now a staid 
old married woman, and Gabriel is very devoted and 
kind. Footlights won a race for us yesterday, she was the 
favorite, and it was wonderful. I go to the races every 
day, and our horses are doing splendidly; I had my 
choice of Erin Go Bragh or Miss Lucy, and I chose Miss 
Lucy. She is mine now, she runs like a streak. Gabriel 
says I made a mistake, Erin Go Bragh will stay better. I 
think Miss Lucy will stay my time. 

“We are having a lovely visit. I’m going to put on a 
domino and take to the streets with Gabriel sometime 

Old Mortality 

during Mardi Gras. I’m tired of watching the show from 
a balcony. Gabriel says it isn’t safe. He says he’ll take 
me if I insist, but I doubt it. Mammy, he’s very nice. 
Don’t worry about me. I have a beautiful black-and- 
rose-colored velvet gown for the Proteus Ball. Madame, 
my new mother-in-law, wanted to know if it wasn’t a 
little dashing. I told her I hoped so or I had been cheated. 
It is fitted perfectly smooth in the bodice, very low in 
the shoulders— Papa would not approve— and the skirt is 
looped with wide silver ribbons between the waist and 
knees in front, and then it surges around and is looped 
enormously in the back, with a train just one yard long. 
I now have an eighteen-inch waist, thanks to Madame 
Dure. I expect to be so dashing that my mother-in-law 
will have an attack. She has them quite often. Gabriel 
sends love. Please take good care of Gray lie and Fiddler. 
I want to ride them again when I come home. We’re 
going to Saratoga, I don’t know just when. Give every- 
body my dear dear love. It rains all the time here, of 
course. . . . 

“P.S. Mammy, as soon as I get a minute to myself. 
I’m going to be terribly homesick. Good-by, my darling 

The other was from Amy’s nurse, dated six weeks 
after Amy’s marriage. 


Old Mortality 

“I cut off the lock of hair because I was sure you 
would like to have it. And I do not want you to think I 
was careless, leaving her medicine where she could get 
it, the doctor has written and explained. It would not 
have done her any harm except that her heart was weak. 
She did not know how much she was taking, often she 
said to me, one more of those little capsules wouldn’t do 
any harm, and so I told her to be careful and not take 
anything except what I gave her. She begged me for 
them sometimes but I would not give her more than the 
doctor said. I slept during the night because she did not 
seem to be so sick as all that and the doctor did not 
order me to sit up with her. Please accept my regrets for 
your great loss and please do not think that anybody 
was careless with your dear daughter. She suffered a 
great deal and now she is at rest. She could not get 
well but she might have lived longer. Yours respect- 
fully. . . .” 

The letters and all the strange keepsakes were packed 
away and forgotten for a great many years. They 
seemed to have no place in the world. 


Old Mortality 

Part II: 1904 

During vacation on their grandmother’s farm, Maria 
and Miranda, who read as naturally and constantly as 
ponies crop grass, and with much the same kind of pleas- 
ure, had by some happy chance laid hold of some forbid- 
den reading matter, brought in and left there with mis- 
sionary intent, no doubt, by some Protestant cousin. It 
fell into the right hands if enjoyment had been its end. 
The reading matter was printed in poor type on spongy 
paper, and was ornamented with smudgy illustrations 
all the more exciting to the little girls because they could 
not make head or tail of them. The stories were about 
beautiful but unlucky maidens, who for mysterious rea- 
sons had been trapped by nuns and priests in dire collu- 
sion; they were then “immured” in convents, where 
they were forced to take the veil— an appalling rite dur- 
ing which the victims shrieked dreadfully— and con- 
demned forever after to most uncomfortable and dis- 
orderly existences. They seemed to divide their time be- 
tween lying chained in dark cells and assisting other 
nuns to bury throttled infants under stones in moldering 
Tat-infested dungeons. 

Immured! It w'as the word Maria and Miranda had 
been needing all along to describe their condition at the 
Convent of the Child Jesus, in New Orleans, where they 


Old Mortality 

spent the long winters trying to avoid an education. 
There were no dungeons at the Child Jesus, and this was 
only one of numerous marked differences between con- 
vent life as Maria and Miranda knew it and the thrilling 
paper-backed version. It was no good at all trying to fit 
the stories to life, and they did not even try. They had 
long since learned to draw the lines between life, which 
was real and earnest, and the grave was not its goal; 
poetry, which was true but not real; and stories, or for- 
bidden reading matter, in which things happened as no- 
where else, with the most sublime irrelevance and un- 
likelihood, and one need not turn a hair, because there 
was not a word of truth in them. 

It was true the little girls were hedged and confined, 
but in a large garden with trees and a grotto; they were 
locked at night into a long cold dormitory, with all the 
windows open, and a sister sleeping at either end. Their 
beds were curtained with muslin, and small night-lamps 
were so arranged that the sisters could sec through the 
curtains, but the children could not see the sisters, 
Miranda wondered if they ever slept, or did they sit 
there all night quietly watching the sleepers through the 
muslin? She tried to work up a little sinister thrill about 
this, but she found it impossible to care much what 
either of the sisters did. They were very dull good- 
natured women who managed to make the whole dor- 


Old Mortality 

niitory seem dull. All days and all things in the Con- 
vent of the Child Jesus were dull, in fact, and Maria and 
Miranda lived for Saturdays. 

No one had even hinted that they should become 
nuns. On the contrary Miranda felt that the discourag- 
ing attitude of Sister Claude and Sister Austin and Sistei 
Ursula towards her expressed ambition to be a nun 
barely veiled a deeply critical knowledge of her spiritual 
deficiencies. Still Maria and Miranda had got a fine new 
w'ord out of their summer reading, and they referred to* 
themselves as “immured.” It gave a romantic glint tc 
what was otherwise a very dull life for them, except for 
blessed Saturday afternoons during the racing season. 

If the nuns were able to assure the family that the de- 
portment and scholastic achievements of Maria and 
Miranda were at least passable, some cousin or other al- 
ways showed up smiling, in holiday mood, to take them 
to the races, where they were given a dollar each to bet 
on any horse they chose. There were black Saturdays 
now and then, w'hen Maria and Miranda sat ready, hats 
in hand, curly hair plastered down and slicked behind 
their ears, their stiffly pleated navy-blue skirts spread 
out around them, waiting with their hearts going down 
slowly into their high-topped laced-up black shoes. 
They never put on their hats until the last minute, for 
somehow it would have been too horrible to have theit 


Old Mortality 

hats on, when, after all. Cousin Henry and Cousin Isa- 
bel, or Uncle George and Aunt Polly, were not coming 
to take them to the races. When no one appeared, and 
Saturday came and went a sickening waste, they were 
then given to understand that it was a punishment for 
bad marks during the week. They never knew until it 
was too late to avoid the disappointment. It was very 

One Saturday they were sent down to wait in the vis- 
itors’ parlor, and there was their father. He had come all 
the way from Texas to see them. They leaped at sight 
of him, and then stopped short, suspiciously. Was he go- 
ing to take them to the races? If so, they were happy to 
see him. 

“Hello,” said father, kissing their cheeks. “Have you 
been good girls? Your Uncle Gabriel is running a marc 
at the Crescent City today, so we’ll all go and bet on 
her. Would you like that?” 

Maria put on her hat without a word, but Miranda 
stood and addressed her father sternly. She had suffered 
many doubts about this day. “Why didn’t you send 
word yesterday? I could have been looking forward all 
this time.” 

“We didn’t know,” said father, in his paternal 
manner, “that you were going to deserve it. Remembet 
Saturday before last?” 


Old Mortality 

Miranda hung her head and put on her hat, with the 
round elastic under the chin. She remembered too well. 
She had, in midweek, given way to despair over her 
arithmetic and had fallen flat on her face on the class- 
room floor, refusing to rise until she was carried out. 
The rest of the week had been a series of novel depriva- 
tions, and Saturday a day of mourning; secret mourning, 
for if one mourned too noisily, it simply meant another 
bad mark against deportment. 

“Never mind,” said father, as if it were the smallesi 
possible matter, “today you’re going. Come along now. 
We’ve barely time.” 

These expeditions were all joy, every time, from the 
moment they stepped into a closed one-horse cab, a treat 
in itself with its dark, thick upholstery, soaked with 
strange perfumes and tobacco smoke, until the thrilling 
moment when they walked into a restaurant under big 
lights and were given dinner with things to eat they 
never had at home, much less at the convent. They felt 
worldly and grown up, each with her glass of water col- 
ored pink with claret. 

The great crowd was always e.xciting as if they had 
never seen it before, with the beautiful, incredibly 
dressed ladies, all plumes and flowers and paint, and the 
elegant gentlemen w’ith yellow gloves. The bands played 
in turn with thundering drums and brasses, and now and 


Old Mortality 

then a wild beautiful horse would career around the 
track with a tiny, monkey-shaped boy on his back, lim- 
bering up for his race. 

Miranda had a secret personal interest in all this which 
she knew better than to confide to anyone, even Maria. 
Least of all to Maria. In ten minutes the whole family 
would have known. She had lately decided to be a 
jockey when she grew up. Her father had said one day 
that she was going to be a little thing all her life, she 
would never be tall; and this meant, of course, that she 
would never be a beauty like Aunt Amy, or Cousin Isa- 
bel. Her hope of being a beauty died hard, until the 
notion of being a jockey came suddenly and filled all her 
thoughts. Quietly, blissfully, at night before she slept, 
and too often in the daytime when she should have been 
studying, she planned her career as jockey. It was dim in 
detail, but brilliant at the right distance. It seemed too 
silly to be worried about arithmetic at all, when what 
she needed for her future was to ride better— much bet- 
ter. “You ought to be ashamed of yourself,” said father, 
after watching her gallop full tilt down the lane at the 
farm, on Trixie, the mustang mare. “I can see the sun, 
moon and stars between you and the saddle every 
jump.” Spanish style meant that one sat close to the sad- 
dle, and did all kinds of things with the knees and reins. 
Jockeys bounced lightly, their knees almost level with 


Old Mortality 

the horse’s back, rising and falling like a rubber ball. 
Miranda felt she could do that easily. Yes, she would be 
a jockey, like Tod Sloan, winning every other race at 
least. Meantime, while she was training, she would keep 
it a secret, and one day she would ride out, bouncing 
lightly, with the other jockeys, and win a great race, 
and surprise everybody, her family most of all. 

On that particular Saturday, her idol, the great Tod 
Sloan, was riding, and he won two races. Miranda 
longed to bet her dollar on Tod Sloan, but father said, 
“Not now, honey. Today you must bet on Uncle Ga- 
briel’s horse. Save your dollar for the fourth race, and 
put it on Miss Lucy. You’ve got a hundred to one shot. 
Think if she wins.” 

Miranda knew well enough that a hundred to one shot 
was no bet at all. She sulked, the crumpled dollar in her 
hand grew damp and warm. She could have won three 
dollars already on Tod Sloan. Maria said virtuously, “It 
wouldn’t be nice not to bet on Uncle Gabriel. That 
way, we keep the money in the family.” Miranda put 
out her under lip at Iier sister. Maria was too prissy for 
words. She wrinkled her nose back at Miranda. 

They had just turned their dollar over to the book- 
maker for the fourth race when a vast bulging man with 
a red face and immense tan ragged mustaches fading into 
gray hailed them from a lower level of the grandstand, 


Old Mortality 

over the heads of the crowd, “Hey, there, Harry?” 
Father said, “Bless my soul, there’s Gabriel.” He mo- 
tioned to the man, who came pushing his way heavily 
up the shallow steps. Maria and Miranda stared, first at 
him, then at each other. “Can that be our Uncle Ga- 
briel?” their eyes asked. “Is that Aunt Amy’s handsome 
romantic beau? Is that the man who wrote the poem 
about our Aunt Amy?” Oh, what did grown-up people 
mean when they talked, anyway? 

He was a shabby fat man with bloodshot blue eyes, 
sad beaten eyes, and a big melancholy laugh, like a 
groan. He towered over them shouting to their father, 
“Well, for God’s sake, Harry, it’s been a coon’s age. 
You ought to come out and look ’em over. You look just 
like yourself, Harry, how are you?” 

The band struck up “Over the River” and Uncle Ga- 
briel shouted louder. “Come on, let’s get out of this. 
What are you doing up here with the pikers?” 

“Can’t,” shouted Father. “Brought my little girls. 
Here they are.” 

Uncle Gabriel’s bleared eyes beamed blindly upon 
them. “Fine looking set, Harry,” he bellowed, “pretty as 
pictures, how old are they?” 

“Ten and fourteen now,” said Father; “awkward ages. 
Nest of vipers,” he boasted, “perfect batch of serpent’s 

Old Mortality 

teeth. Can’t do a thing with ’em.” He fluffed up Miran- 
da’s hair, pretending to tousle it. 

“Pretty as pictures,” bawled Uncle Gabriel, “but 
rolled into one they don’t come up to Amy, do they?” 

“No, they don’t,” admitted their father at the top of 
his voice, “but they’re only half-baked,” Over the river, 
over the river, moaned the band, my sweetheart’s wait^ 
mg for we. 

“I’ve got to get back now,” yelled Uncle Gabriel, 
The little girls felt quite deaf and confused. “Got the 
God-damnedest Jockey in the world, Harry, Just my 
luck. Ought to tie him on. Fell off Fiddler yesterday, 
Just plain fell off on his tail— Remember Amy’s mare, 
MLss Lucy? Well, this is her namesake. Miss Lucy IV. 
None of ’em ever came up to the first one, though. Stay 
right v'here you are. I’ll be back.” 

Maria spoke up boldly. “Uncle Gabriel, tell Miss 
Lucy we’re betting on her.” Uncle Gabriel bent down 
and it looked as if there were tears in his swollen eyes. 
“God bless your sweet heart,” he bellowed, “I’ll tell 
her.” I Ic plunged down through the crowd again, his fat 
back bowed slightly in his loose clothes, his thick neck 
rolling over his collar. 

Miranda and Maria, disheartened by the odds, by their 
first sight of their romantic Uncle Gabriel, whose lan- 
guage was so coarse, sat listlessly without watching, theii 


Old Mortality 

chances missed, their dollars gone, their hearts sore. 
They didn’t even move until their father leaned over 
and hauled them up. “Watch your horse,” he said, in a 
quick warning voice, “watch Miss Lucy come home.” 

They stood up, scrambled to their feet on the bench, 
every vein in them suddenly beating so violently they 
could hardly focus their eyes, and saw a thin little ma- 
hogany-colored streak flash by the judges’ stand, only 
a neck ahead, but their Miss Lucy, oh, their darling, 
their lovely— oh. Miss Lucy, their Uncle Gabriel’s Miss 
Lucy, had won, had won. They leaped up and down 
screaming and clapping their hands, their hats falling 
back on their shoulders, their hair flying wild. Whoa, 
you heifer, squalled the band with snorting brasses, and 
the crowd broke into a long roar like the falling of the 
walls of Jericho. 

The little girls sat down, feeling quite dizzy, while 
their father tried to pull their hats straight, and taking 
out his handkerchief held it to Miranda’s face, saying 
very gently, “Here, blow your nose,” and he dried her 
eyes while he was about it. I Ic stood up then and shook 
them out of their daze. He was smiling with deep laugh- 
ing wrinkles around his eyes, and spoke to them as if 
they were grown young ladies he was squiring around. 

“Let’s go out and pay our respects to Miss Lucy,” he 
said. “She’s the star of the day.” 


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The horses were coming in, looking as if their hides 
had been drenched and rubbed Avith soap, their ribs 
heaving, their nostrils flaring and closing. The jockeys 
sat bowed and relaxed, their faces calm, moving a little 
at the waist with the movement of their horses, Miranda 
noted this for future use; that was the way you came in 
from a race, easy and quiet, whether you had won or 
lost. Miss Lucy came last, and a little handful of win- 
ners applauded her and cheered the jockey. He smiled 
and lifted his whip, his eyes and shriveled brown face 
perfectly serene. Miss Lucy was bleeding at the nose, 
two thick red rivulets were stiffening her tender mouth 
and chin, the round velvet chin that Miranda thought 
the nicest kind of chin in the world. Her eyes were wild 
and her knees were trembling, and she snored when she 
drew her breath. 

Miranda stood staring. That was winning, too. Her 
heart clinched tight; that was winning, for Miss Lucy. 
So instantly and completely did her heart reject that 
victory, she did not know when it happened, but she 
hated it, and was ashamed that she had screamed and 
shed tears for joy when Miss Lucy, with her bloodied 
nose and bursting heart had gone past the judges’ stand a 
neck ahead. She felt empty and sick and held to her 
father’s hand so hard that he shook her off a little impa- 


Old Mortality 

tiently and said, “What is the matter with you? Don’t be 
so fidgety.” 

Uncle Gabriel was standing there waiting, and he was 
completely drunk. He watched the mare go in, then 
leaned against the fence with its white-washed posts and 
sobbed openly. “She’s got the nosebleed, Harry,” he 
said. “Had it since yesterday. We thought we had her all 
fixed up. But she did it, all right. She’s got a heart like 
a lion. I’m going to breed her, Harry. Her heart’s worth 
a million dollars, by itself, God bless her.” Tears ran 
■over his brick-colored face and into his straggling mus- 
taches. “If anything happens to her now I’ll blow my 
brains out. She’s my last hope. She saved my life. I’ve 
had a run,” he said, groaning into a large handkerchief 
and mopping his face all over, “I’ve had a run of luck 
that would break a brass billy goat. God, Harry, let’s 
go somewhere and have a drink.” 

“I must get the children back to school first, Gabriel,” 
said their father, taking each by a hand. 

“No, no, don’t go yet,” said Uncle Gabriel desper- 
ately. “Wait here a minute, I want to see the vet and 
take a look at Miss Lucy, and I’ll be right back. Don’t 
go, Harry, for God’s sake. I want to talk to you a few 

Maria and Miranda, watching Uncle Gabriel’s lum- 
bering, unsteady back, were thinking that this was the 


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first time they had ever seen a man that they knew to be 
drunk. They had seen pictures and read descriptions, 
and had heard descriptions, so they recognized the symp- 
toms at once. Miranda felt it was an important moment 
in a great many ways. 

“Uncle Gabriel’s a drunkard, isn’t he?” she asked her 
father, rather proudly. 

“Hush, don’t say such things,” said father, with a 
heavy frown, “or I’ll never bring you here again.” He 
looked worried and unhappy, and, above all, undecided. 
The little girls stood stiff with resentment against such 
obvious injustice. They loosed their hands from his and 
moved away coldly, standing together in silence. Their 
father did not notice, watching the place where Uncle 
Gabriel had disappeared. In a few minutes he came back, 
still wiping his face, as if there were cobwebs on it, 
carrying his big black hat. He waved at them from a 
short distance, calling out in a cheerful way, “She’s go- 
ing to be all right, Harry. It’s stopped now. Lord, this 
will be good news for Miss Honey. Come on, Harry, 
let’s all go home and tell Miss Honey. She deserves some 
good news.” 

Father said, “I’d better take the children back to 
school first, then we’ll go.” 

“No, no,” said Uncle Gabriel, fondly. “I want her to 


Old Mortality 

see the girls. She’ll be tickled pink to see them, Harry, 
Bring ’em along.” 

“Is it another race horse we’re going to see?” whis- 
pered Miranda in her sister’s ear. 

“Don’t be silly,” said Maria, “It’s Uncle Gabriel’s sec- 
ond wife,” 

“Let’s find a cab, Harry,” said Uncle Gabriel, “and 
take your little girls out to cheer up Miss Honey. Both 
of ’em rolled into one look a lot like Amy, I swear they 
do. I want Miss Honey to see them. She’s always liked 
our family, Harry, though of course she’s not what 
you’d call an expansive kind of woman.” 

Maria and Miranda sat facing the driver, and Uncle 
Gabriel squeezed himself in facing them beside their 
father. The air became at once bitter and sour with his 
breathing. He looked sad and poor. His necktie was on 
crooked and his shirt was rumpled. Father said, “You’re 
going to see Uncle Gabriel’s second w'ifc, children,” ex- 
actly if they had not heard everything; and to Gabriel, 
“How is your wife nowadays? It must be twenty years 
since I saw her last.” 

“She’s pretty gloomy, and that’s a fact,” said Uncle 
Gabriel. “She’s been pretty gloomy for years now, and 
nothing seems to shake her out of it. She never did care 
for horses, Harry, if you remember; she hasn’t been near 
the track three times since we were married. When I 


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think how Amy wouldn’t have missed a race for any- 
thing . . . She’s very different from Amy, Harry, a 
very different kind of woman. As fine a woman as ever 
lived in her own way, but she hates change and moving 
around, and she just lives in the boy.” 

“Where is Gabc now?” asked father. 

“Finishing college,” said Uncle Gabriel; “a smart boy, 
but awfully like his mother. Awfully like,” he said, in a 
melancholy way. “She hates being away from him. Just 
wants to sit down in the same town and wait for him to 
get through with his education. Well, I’m sorry it can’t 
be done if that’s what she wants, but God Almighty- 
And this last run of luck has about got her down. I hope 
you’ll be able to cheer her up a little, Harry, she needs 

The little girls sat watching the streets grow duller 
and dingier and narrower, and at last the shabbier and 
shabbier white people gave way to dressed-up Negroes, 
and then to shabby Negroes, and after a long way the 
cab stopped before a desolate-looking little hotel in Ely- 
sian Fields. Their father helped Maria and Miranda our, 
told the cabman to wait, and they followed Uncle Ga- 
briel through a dirty damp-smelling patio, down a long 
gas-lighted hall full of a terrible spiell, Miranda couldn’t 
decide what it was made of but it had a bitter taste even, 
and up a long staircase with a ragged carpet. Uncle Ga- 


Old Mortality 

briel pushed open a door without warning, saying, 
“Come in, here we are.” 

A tall pale-faced woman with faded straw-colored 
hair and pink-rimmed eyelids rose suddenly from a 
squeaking rocking chair. She wore a stiff blue-and- 
white-striped shirtwaist and a stiff black skirt of some 
hard shiny material. Her large knuckled hands rose to 
her round, neat pompadour at sight of her visitors. 

“Honey,” said Uncle Gabriel, with large false hearti- 
ness, “you’ll never guess who’s come to see you.” He 
gave her a clumsy hug. Her face did not change and 
her eyes rested steadily on the three strangers. “Amy’s 
brother Harry, Honey, you remember, don’t you?” 

“Of course,” said Miss Honey, putting out her hand 
straight as a paddle, “of course I remember you, Harry.” 
She did not smile. 

“And Amy’s two little nieces,” went on Uncle Ga- 
briel, bringing them forward. They put out their hands 
limply, and Miss Honey gave each one a slight flip and 
dropped it. “And we’ve got good news for you,” went 
on Uncle Gabriel, trying to bolster up the painful situa- 
tion. “Miss Lucy stepped out and showed ’em today. 
Honey. We’re rich again, old girl, cheer up.” 

Miss Honey turned her long, despairing face towards 
her visitors. “Sit down,” she said with a heavy sigh, 
seating herself and motioning towards various rickety 


Old Mortality 

chairs. There was a big lumpy bed, with a grayish-white 
counterpane on it, a marble-topped washstand, grayish 
coarse lace curtains on strings at the two small windows, 
a small closed fireplace with a hole in it for a stovepipe, 
and two trunks, standing at odds as if somebody were 
just moving in, or just moving out. Everything was 
dingy and soiled and neat and bare; not a pin out of 

“We’ll move to the St. Charles tomorrow,” said Uncle 
Gabriel, as much to Harry as to his wife. “Get your besf 
dresses together. Honey, the long dry spell is over.” 

Miss Honey’s nostrils pinched together and she rocked 
slightly, with her arms folded. “I’ve lived in the Ste 
Charles before, and I’ve lived here before,” she said, in 
a tight deliberate voice, “and this time I’ll just stay 
where I am, thank you. I prefer it to moving back here 
in three months. I’m settled now, I feel at home here,” 
she told him, glancing at Harry, her pale eyes kindling 
with blue fire, a stiff white line around her mouth. 

The little girls sat trying not to stare, miserably ill 
at ease. Their grandmother had pronounced Harry’s 
children to be the most unteachable she had ever seen 
in her long experience with the young; but they had 
learned by indirection one thing well— nice people did 
not carry on quarrels before outsiders. Family quarrels 
were sacred, to be waged privately in fierce hissing 


Old /Mortality 

whispers, low choked mutters and growls. If they did 
yell and stamp, it must be behind closed doors and win- 
dows. Uncle Gabriel’s second wife was hopping mad 
and she looked ready to fly out at Uncle Gabriel any 
second, with him sitting there like a liound when some- 
one shakes a whip at him. 

“She loathes and despises everybody in this room,” 
thought Miranda, coolly, “and she’s afraid wc won’t 
know it. She needn’t worry, we knew it when we came 
in.” With all her heart she wanted to go, but her father, 
though his face was a study, made no move. He seemed 
to be trying to think of something pleasant to say. 
Maria, feeling guilty, though she couldn’t think why, 
was calculating rapidly, “Why, she’s only Uncle Ga- 
briel’s second wife, and Uncle Gabriel was only mar- 
ried before to Aunt Amy, why, she’s no kin at all, and 
I’m glad of it.” Sitting back easily, she let her hands fall 
open in her lap; they would be going in a few minutes, 
undoubtedly, and they need never come back. 

Then father said, “We mustn’t be keeping you, we 
just dropped in for a few' minutes. We wanted to see 
how you are.” 

Miss Honey said nothing, but she made a little gesture 
with her hands, from the wrist, as if to say, “Well, you 
see how I am, and now what next?” 

“I must take these young ones back to school,” said 


Old Mortality 

father, and Uncle Gabriel said stupidly, “Look, Honey, 
don’t you think they resemble Amy a little? Especially 
around the eyes, especially A4aria, don’t you think, 

Their father glanced at them in turn. “I really 
couldn’t say,” he decided, and the little girls saw he 
was more monstrously embarrassed than ever. He 
turned to Miss Honey, “I hadn’t seen Gabriel for so 
many years,” he said, “we thought of getting out for a 
talk about old times together. You know how it is.” 

“Yes, I know,” said Miss Honey, rocking a little, and 
all that she knew gleamed forth in a pallid, unquench- 
able hatred and bitterness that seemed enough to bring 
her long body straight up out of the chair in a fury, 
“I know,” and she sat staring at the floor. Her mouth 
shook and straightened. There was a terrible silence, 
which was broken when the little girls saw their fathei 
rise. They got up, too, and it was all they could do to 
keep from making a dash for the door. 

“I must get the young ones back,” said their father. 
“They’ve had enough excitement for one day. They 
each won a hundred dollars on Miss Lucy. It was a 
good race,” he said, in complete wretchedness, as if he 
simply could not extricate himself from the situation. 
“Wasn’t it, Gabriel?” 


Old Mortality 

“It was a grand race,” said Gabriel, brokenly, “a 
grand race.” 

Miss Honey stood up and moved a step towards the 
door. “Do you take them to the races, actually?” she 
asked, and her lids flickered towards them as if they 
were loathsome insects, Maria felt. 

“If I feel they deserve a little treat, yes,” said their 
father, in an easy tone but with wrinkled brow. 

“I had rather, much rather,” said Miss Honey clearly, 
“see my son dead at my feet than hanging around a 
race track.” 

The next few moments were rather a blank, but at 
last they were out of it, going down the stairs, across 
the patio, with Uncle Gabriel seeing them back into the 
cab. His face was sagging, the features had fallen as if 
the flesh had slipped from the bones, and his eyelids 
were puffed and blue. “Good-by, Harry,” he said so- 
berly. “How long you expect to be here?” 

“Starting back tomorrow,” said Harry. “Just dropped 
in on a little business and to see how the girls were get- 
ting along.” 

“Well,” said Uncle Gabriel, “I may be dropping into 
your part of the country one of these days. Good-by, 
children,” he said, taking their hands one after the other 
in his big warm paws. “They’re nice children, Harry. 
I’m glad you won on Miss Lucy,” he said to the little 


Old Mortality 

girls, tenderly. “Don’t spend your money foolishly, 
now. Well, so long, Harry.” As the cab jolted away 
he stood there fat and sagging, holding up his arm and 
wagging his hand at them. 

“Goodness,” said Maria, in her most grown-up man- 
ner, taking her hat off and hanging it over her knee, 
“I’m glad that’s over.” 

“What I want to know is,” said Miranda, “is Uncle 
Gabriel a real drunkard?” 

“Oh, hush,” said their father, sharply, “I've got the 

There was a respectful pause, as before a public 
monument. When their father had the heartburn it 
was time to lay low. The cab rumbled on, back to clean 
gay streets, with the lights coming on in the early Feb- 
ruary darkness, past shimmering shop windows, smooth 
pavements, on and on, past beautiful old houses set in 
deep gardens, on, on back to the dark waUs with the 
heavy-topped trees hanging over them. Miranda sat 
thinking so hard she forgot and spoke out in her 
thoughtless way: “I’ve decided I’m not going to be a 
jockey, after all.” She could as usual have bitten her 
tongue, but as usual it was too late. 

Father cheered up and twinkled at her knowingly, 
as if that didn’t surprise him in the least. “Well, well,” 
said he, “so you aren’t going to be a jockey! That’s 


Old Mortality 

very sensible of you. I think she ought to be a lion- 
tamer, don’t you, Maria? That’s a nice, womanly pro- 

Miranda, seeing Alaria from the height of her four- 
teen years suddenly joining witli their father to laugh 
at her, made an instant decision and laughed with them 
at herself. That was better. Everybody laughed and it 
was such a relief. 

“Where’s my hundred dollars?” asked Maria, anx- 

“It’s going in the bank,” said their father, “and yours 
too,” he told Miranda. “That is your nest-egg.” 

“Just so they don’t buy my stockings witli it,” said 
Miranda, who had long resented the use of her Christ- 
mas money by their grandmother. “I’ve got enough 
stockings to last me a year.” 

“I’d like to buy a racehorse,” said Maria, “but I know 
it’s not enough.” The limitations of wealth oppressed 
her. ^'Wbat could you buy with a hundred dollars?” 
she asked fretfully. 

“Nothing, nothing at all,” said their father, “a hun- 
dred dollars is just something you put in the bank.” 

iMaria and Miranda lost interest. Ihcy had won a 
hundred dollars on a horse race once. It was already 
in the far past. 'I'hey began to chatter about something 


Old Mortality 

The lay sister opened the door on a long cord, from 
behind the grille; Maria and Miranda walked in silently 
to their familiar world of shining bare floors and in- 
sipid wholesome food and cold-water washing and reg- 
ular prayers; their world of poverty, chastity and obe- 
dience, of early to bed and early to rise, of sharp little 
rules and tittle-tattle. Resignation was in their childish 
faces as they held them up to be kissed. 

“Be good girls,” said their father, in the strange seri- 
ous, rather helpless way he always had when he told 
them good-by. “Write to your daddy, now, nice long 
letters,” he said, holding their arms firmly for a mo- 
ment before letting go for good. Then he disappeared, 
and the sister swung the door closed after him. 

Maria and Miranda went upstairs to the dormitory 
to wash their faces and hands and slick down their hair 
again before supper. 

Miranda was hungry. “We didn’t have a thing to eat, 
after all,” she grumbled. “Not even a chocolate nut bar. 
I think that’s mean. We didn’t even get a quarter to 
spend,” she said. 

“Not a living bite,” said Maria. “Not a nickel.” She 
poured out cold water into the bowl and rolled up her 

Another girl about her own age came in and went to 


Old Mortality 

a washbowl near another bed. “Where have you been?” 
she asked. “Did you have a good time?” 

“We went to the races, with our father,” said Maria, 
soaping her hands. 

“Our uncle’s horse won,” said Miranda. 

“My goodness,” said the other girl, vaguely, “that 
must have been grand.” 

Maria looked at Miranda, who was rolling up her 
own sleeves. She tried to feel martyred, but it wouldn’t 
go. “Immured for another week,” she said, her eyes 
sparkling over the edge of her towel. 

Part III: 1912 

Miranda followed the porter down the stuffy aisle 
of the sleeping-car, where the berths were nearly all 
made down and the dusty green curtains buttoned, to 
a seat at the further end. “Now yo’ berth’s ready any 
time. Miss,” said the porter. 

“But I want to sit up a while,” said Miranda. A very 
thin old lady raised choleric black eyes and fixed upon 
her a regard of unmixed disapproval. She had two im- 
mense front teeth and a «*eceding chin, but she did not 
lack character. She had piled her luggage around her 
like a barricade, and she glared at the porter when he 


Old Mortality 

picked some of it up to make room for his new pas- 
senger. Miranda sat, saying mechanically, “May I?” 

“You may, indeed,” said the old lady, for she seemed 
old in spite of a certain brisk, rustling energy. Her taf- 
feta petticoats creaked like hinges every time she stirred. 
With ferocious sarcasm, after a half second’s pause, she 
added, “You may be so good as to get off my hat!” 

Miranda rose instantly in horror, and handed to the 
old lady a wilted contrivance of black horsehair braid 
and shattered white poppies. “I’m dreadfully sorry,” she 
stammered, for she had been brought up to treat fero- 
cious old ladies respectfully, and this one seemed capable 
of spanking her, then and there. “I didn’t dream it was 
your hat.” 

“And whose hat did you dream it might be?” inquired 
the old lady, baring her teeth and twirling the hat on a 
forefinger to restore it. 

“I didn’t think it was a hat at all,” said Miranda with 
a touch of hysteria. 

“Oh, you didn’t think it was a hat? Where on earth 
are your eyes, child?” and she proved the nature and 
function of the object by placing it on her head at a 
somewhat tipsy angle, though still it did not much re- 
semble a hat. “Now can you see what it is?” 

“Yes, oh, yes,” said Miranda, with a meekness she 
hoped was disarming. She ventured to sit again after a 


Old Mortality 

careful inspection of the narrow space she was to oc- 

“Well, well,” said the old lady, “let’s have the porter 
remove some of these encumbrances,” and she stabbed 
the bell with a lean sharp forefinger. There followed 
a flurry of rearrangements, during which they both 
stood in the aisle, the old lady giving a series of impos- 
sible directions to the Negro which he bore philosophi- 
cally while he disposed of the luggage exactly as he had 
meant to do. Seated again, the old lady asked in a kindly, 
authoritative tone, “And what might your name be, 

At Miranda’s answer, she blinked somewhat, unfolded 
her spectacles, straddled them across her high nose com- 
petently, and took a good long look at the face beside 

“If I’d had my spectacles on,” she said, in an aston- 
ishingly changed voice, “1 might have known. I’m 
Cousin Eva Farrington,” she said, “Cousin Molly Farring- 
ton’s daughter, remember? I knew you when you were 
a little girl. You were a lively little girl,” she added as 
if to console her, “and very opinionated. The last thing 
I heard about you, you were planning to be a tight-rope 
walker. You were going to play the violin and walk 
the tight rope at the same time.” 

“I must have seen it at the vaudeville show,” said 


Old Mortality 

Miranda. “I couldn’t have invented it. Now I’d like to 
be an air pilot!” 

“I used to go to dances with your father,” said Cousin 
Eva, busy with her own thoughts, “and to big holiday 
parties at your grandmother’s house, long before you 
were bom. Oh, indeed, yes, a long time before.” 

Miranda remembered several things at once. Aunt 
Amy had threatened to be an old maid like Eva. Oh, 
Eva, the trouble with her is she has no chin. Eva has 
given up, and is teaching Latin in a Female Seminary. 
Eva’s gone out for votes for women, God help her. The 
nice thing about an ugly daughter is, she’s not apt to 
make me a grandmother. . . . “They didn’t do you 
much good, those parties, dear Cousin Eva,” thought 

“They didn’t do me much good, those parties,” said 
Cousin Eva aloud as if she were a mind-reader, and 
Miranda’s head swam for a moment with fear that she 
had herself spoken aloud. “Or at least, they didn't serve 
their purpose, for I never got married; but I enjoyed 
them, just the same. I had a good time at those parties, 
even if I wasn’t a belle. And so you are Harry's child, 
and here I was quarreling with you. You do remember 
me, don’t you?” 

“Yes,” said Miranda, and thinking that even it Cousin 
Eva had been really an old maid ten years beJore, still 


Old Mortality 

she couldn’t be much past fifty now, and she looked so 
withered and tired, so famished and sunken in the 
cheeks, so old, somehow. Across the abyss separating 
Cousin Eva from her own youth, Miranda looked with 
painful premonition. “Oh, must I ever be like that?” 
She said aloud, “Yes, you used to read Latin to me, and 
tell me not to bother about the sense, to get the sound 
in my mind, and it would come easier later.” 

“Ah, so I did,” said Cousin Eva, delighted. “So I 
did. You don’t happen to remember that I once had a 
beautiful sapphire velvet dress with a train on it?” 

“No, I don’t remember that dress,” said Miranda. 

“It was an old dress of my mother’s made over and 
cut down to fit,” said Eva, “and it wasn’t in the least 
becoming to me, but it was the only really good dress 
I ever had, and I remember it as if it were yesterday. 
Blue was never my color.” She sighed with a humorous 
bitterness. The humor seemed momentary, but the bit- 
terness was a constant state of mind. 

Miranda, trying to offer the sympathy of fellow suf- 
fering, said, “I know. I’ve had Maria’s dresses made over 
for me, and they were never right. It was dreadful.” 

“Well,” said Cousin Eva, in the tone of one who did 
not wish to share her unique disappointments. “How is 
your father? I always liked him. He was one of the 
finest-looking young men I ever saw. Vain, too, like all 

Old Mortality 

his family. He wouldn’t ride any but the best horses 
he could buy, and I used to say he made them prance 
and then watched his own shadow. I used to tell this 
on him at dinner parties, and he hated me for it. I feel 
pretty certain he hated me.” An overtone of compla- 
cency in Cousin Eva’s voice explained better than words 
that she had her own method of commanding attention 
and arousing emotion. “How is your father, I asked 
you, my dear?” 

“I haven’t seen him for nearly a year,” answered 
Miranda, quickly, before Cousin Eva could get ahead 
again. “I’m going home now to Uncle Gabriel’s funeral; 
you know, Uncle Gabriel died in Lexington and they 
have brought him back to be buried beside Aunt Amy.” 

“So that’s how we meet,” said Cousin Eva. “Yes, Ga- 
briel drank himself to death at last. I’m going to the 
funeral, too. I haven’t been home since I went to 
Mother’s funeral, it must be, let’s see, yes, it will be nine 
years next July. I’m going to Gabriel’s funeral, though. 
I wouldn’t miss that. Poor fellow, what a life he had. 
Pretty soon, they’ll all be gone.” 

Miranda said, “We’re left. Cousin Eva,” meaning 
those of her own generation, the young, and Cousin 
Eva said, “Pshaw, you’ll live forever, and you won’t 
bother to come to our funerals.” She didn't seem to 
think this was a misfortune, but flung the remark from 


Old Mortality 

her like a woman accustomed to saying what she 

Miranda sat thinking, “Still, I suppose it would be 
pleasant if I could say something to make her believe 
that she and all of them would be lamented, but— but— ” 
With a smile which she hoped would be her denial of 
Cousin Eva’s cynicism about the younger generation, 
she said, “You were right about the Latin, Cousin Eva, 
your reading did help when I began with it. I still 
study,” she said. “Latin, too.” 

“And why shouldn’t you?” asked Cousin Eva, 
sharply, adding at once mildly, “I’m glad you are going 
to use your mind a little, child. Don’t let yourself rust 
away. Your mind outwears all sorts of things you may 
set your heart upon; ) ou can enjoy it when all other 
things are taken away.” Miranda was chilled by her 
melancholy. Cousin Eva went on: “In our part of the 
country, in my time, we were so provincial— a woman 
didn’t dare to think or act for herself. The whole world 
was a little that way,” she said, “but we were the 
worst, I believe. I suppose you must know how I fought 
for votes for women when it almost made a pariah of 
me— I was turned out of my chair at the Seminary, but 
I’m glad I did it and I would do it again. You young 
things don’t realize. You’ll live in a better world because 
we worked for it.” 


Old Mortality 

Miranda knew something of Cousin Eva’s career. She 
said sincerely, “I think it was brave of you, and I’m 
glad you did it, too. I loved your courage.” 

“It wasn’t just showing off, mind you,” said Cousin 
Eva, rejecting praise, fretfully. “Any fool can be brave. 
We were working for something we knew was right, 
and it turned out that we needed a lot of courage for 
it. That was all. I didn’t expect to go to jail, but I went 
three times, and I’d go three times three more if it were 
necessary. We aren’t voting yet,” she said, “but we will 

Miranda did not venture any answer, but she felt 
convinced that indeed women would be voting soon if 
nothing fatal happened to Cousin Eva. There was some- 
thing in her manner which said such things could be 
left safely to her. Miranda was dimly fired for the 
herself; it seemed heroic and worth suffering for, but 
discouraging, too, to those who came after: Cousin Eva 
so plainly had swept the field clear of opportunity. 

Tliey were silent for a few minutes, while Cousin Eva 
rummaged in her handbag, bringing up odds and ends: 
peppermint drops, eye drops, a packet of needles, three 
handkerchiefs, a little bottle of violet perfume, a book 
of addresses, two buttons, one black, one white, and, 
finally, a packet of headache powders. 

“Bring me a glass of water, will you, my dear?” she 


Old Mortality 

asked Miranda. She poured the headache powder on her 
tongue, swallowed the water, and put two peppermints 
in her mouth. 

“So now they’re going to bury Gabriel near Amy,” 
she said after a while, as if her eased headache had 
starred her on a new train of thought. “Miss Honey 
would like that, poor dear, if she could know. After 
listening to stories about Amy for twenty-five years, 
she must lie alone in her grave in Lexington while Ga- 
briel sneaks off to Texas to make his bed with Amy 
again. It was a kind of life-long infidelity, Miranda, and 
now an eternal infidelity on top of that. He ought to 
be ashamed of himself.” 

“It was Aunt Amy he loved,” said Miranda, wonder- 
ing what Miss Honey could have been like before her 
long troubles with Uncle Gabriel. “First, anyway.” 

“Oh, that Amy,” said Cousin Eva, her eyes glittering. 
“Your Aunt Amy was a devil and a mischief-maker, but 
I loved her dearly. 1 used to stand up for Amy when 
her reputation wasn’t worth that.” Her fingers snapped 
like castanets. “She used to say to me, in that gay soft 
way she had, ‘Now, Eva, don’t go talking votes for 
women when the lads ask you to dance. Don’t recite 
Latin poems to ’em,’ she would say, ‘they got sick of 
that in school. Dance and say nothing, Eva,’ she would 
say, her eyes perfectly devilish, ‘and hold your chin 


Old Mortality 

up, Eva.’ My chin was my weak point, you see. ‘You’ll 
never catch a husband if you don’t look out,’ she would 
say. Then she would laugh and fly away, and where 
did she fly to?” demanded Cousin Eva, her sharp eyes 
pinning Miranda down to the bitter facts of the case, 
“To scandal and to death, nowhere else.” 

“She was joking. Cousin Eva,” said Miranda, inno- 
cently, “and everybody loved her.” 

“Not everybody, by a long shot,” said Cousin Eva in 
triumph. “She had enemies. If she knew, she pretended 
she didn’t. If she cared, she never said. You couldn’t 
make her quarrel. She was sweet as a honeycomb to 
everybody. Everybody ” she added, “that was the trou- 
ble. She went through life like a spoiled darling, doing 
as she pleased and letting other people suffer for it, and 
pick up the pieces after her. I never believed for one 
moment,” said Cousin Eva, putting her mouth close to 
Miranda’s ear and breathing peppermint hotly into it, 
“that Amy was an impure woman. Never! But let me 
tell you, there were plenty who did believe it. There 
were plenty to pity poor Gabriel for being so com- 
pletely blinded by her. A great many persons were not 
surprised when they heard that Gabriel was perfectly 
miserable all the time, on their honeymoon, in New 
Orleans. Jealousy. And why not? But I used to say to 
such persons that, no matter what the appearances were, 

Old Mortality 

I had faith in Amy’s virtue. Wild, I said, indiscreet, I 
said, heartless, I said, but virtuous, I feel certain. But 
you could hardly blame anyone for being mystified. The 
way she rose up suddenly from death’s door to marry 
Gabriel Breaux, after refusing him and treating him like 
a dog for years, looked odd, to say the least. To say 
the very least,” she added, after a moment, “odd is a 
mild word for it. And there was something very mys- 
terious about her death, only six weeks after marriage.” 

Miranda roused herself. She felt she knew this part 
of the story and could set Cousin Eva right about one 
thing. “She died of a hemorrhage from the lungs,” said 
Miranda. “She had been ill for five years, don’t you 

Cousin Eva was ready for that. “Ha, that was the 
story, indeed. The official account, you might say. Oh, 
yes, I heard that often enough. But did you ever hear 
about that fellow Raymond somebody-or-other from 
Calcasieu Parish, almost a stranger, who persuaded Amy 
to elope with him from a dance one night, and she just 
ran out into the darkness without even stopping for her 
cloak, and your poor dear nice father Harry— you 
weren’t even thought of then— had to run him down to 
earth and shoot him?” 

Miranda leaned back from the advancing flood of 

Old Mortality 

speech. “Cousin Eva, my father shot at him, don’t you 
remember? He didn’t hit him. . . 

“Well, that’s a pity.” 

“. . . and they had only gone out for a breath of air 
between dances. It was Uncle Gabriel’s jealousy. And 
my father shot at the man because he thought that was 
better than letting Uncle Gabriel fight a duel about 
Aunt Amy. There was nothing in the whole affair ex- 
cept Uncle Gabriel’s jealousy.” 

“You poor baby,” said Cousin Eva, and pity gave a 
light like daggers to her eyes, “you dear innocent, you— 
do you believe that? How old are you, anyway?” 

“Just past eighteen,” said Miranda. 

“If you don’t understand what I tell you,” said Cousin 
Eva portentously, “you will later. Knowledge can’t hurt 
you. You mustn’t live in a romantic haze about life. 
You’ll understand when you’re married, at any rate.” 

“I’m married now. Cousin Eva,” said Miranda, feel- 
ing for almost the first time that it might be an advan- 
tage, “nearly a year. I eloped from school.” It seemed 
very unreal even as she said it, and seemed to have noth- 
ing at all to do with the future; still, it was important, 
it must be declared, it was a situation in life which 
people seemed to be most exacting about, and the only 
feeling she could rouse in herself about it was an im- 


Old Mortality 

mense weariness as if it were an illness that she might 
one day hope to recover from. 

“Shameful, shameful,” cried Cousin Eva, genuinely 
repelled. “If you had been my child I should have 
brought you home and spanked you.” 

Miranda laughed out. Cousin Eva seemed to believe 
things could be arranged like that. She was so solemn 
and fierce, so comic and baffled. 

“And you must know I should have just gone straight 
out again, through the nearest window,” she taunted 
her. “If I went the first time, why not the second?” 

“Yes, I suppose so,” said Cousin Eva. “I hope you 
married rich.” 

“Not so very,” said Miranda. “Enough.” As if any- 
one could have stopped to think of such a thing! 

Cousin Eva adjusted her spectacles and sized up 
Miranda’s dress, her luggage, examined her engagement 
ring and wedding ring, with her nostrils fairly quiver- 
ing as if she might smell out wealth on her. 

“Well, that’s better than nothing,” said Cousin Eva. 
“I thank God every day of my life that I have a small 
income. It’s a Rock of Ages. What would have become 
of me if I hadn’t a cent of my own? Well, you’ll be 
able now to do something for your family.” 

Miranda remembered what she had always heard 
about the Farringtons. They were money-hungry, they 


Old Mortality 

loved money and nothing else, and \vhen they had got 
some they kept it. Blood was thinner than water be- 
tween the Farringtons where money was concerned. 

“We’re pretty poor,” said Miranda, stubbornly ally- 
ing herself with her father’s family instead of her hus- 
band’s, “but a rich marriage is no way out,” she said, 
with the snobbishness of poverty. She was thinking, 
“You don’t know my branch of the family, dear Cousin 
Eva, if you think it is.” 

“Your branch of the family,” said Cousin Eva, with 
that terrifying habit she had of lifting phrases out of 
one’s mind, “has no more practical sense than so many 
children. Everything for love,” she said, with a face of 
positive nausea, “that was it. Gabriel would have been 
rich if his grandfather had not disinherited him, but 
would Amy be sensible and marry him and make him 
settle down so the old man would have been pleased 
with him? No. And what could Gabriel do without 
money? I wish you could have seen the life he led Miss 
Honey, one day buying her Paris gowns and the next 
day pawning her earrings. It just depended on how the 
horses ran, and they ran worse and worse, and Gabriel 
drank more and more.” 

Miranda did not say, “I saw a little of it.” She was 
trying to imagine Miss Honey in a Paris gown. She said, 
“But Uncle Gabriel was so mad about Aunt Amy, there 


Old Mortality 

was no question of her not marrying him at last, money 
or no money.” 

Cousin Eva strained her lips tightly over her teeth, 
let them fly again and leaned over, gripping Miranda’s 
arm. “What I ask myself, what I ask myself over and 
over again,” she whispered, “is, what connection did 
this man Raymond from Calcasieu have with Amy’s 
sudden marriage to Gabriel, and what did Amy do to 
make away with herself so soon afterward? For mark 
my words, child, Amy wasn’t so ill as all that. She’d 
been flying around for years after the doctors said her 
lungs were weak. Amy did away with herself to escape 
some disgrace, some exposure that she faced.” 

The beady black eyes glinted; Cousin Eva’s face was 
quite frightening, so near and so intent. Miranda wanted 
to say, “Stop. Let her rest. What harm did she ever do 
you?” but she was timid and unnerved, and deep in her 
was a horried fascination with the terrors and the dark- 
ness Cousin Eva had conjured up. What was the end 
of this story? 

“She was a bad, wild girl, but I was fond of her to 
the last,” said Cousin Eva. “She got into trouble some- 
how, and she couldn’t get out again, and I have every 
reason to believe she killed herself with the drug they 
gave her to keep her quiet after a hemorrhage. If she 
lidn’t, what happened, what happened?” 


Old Mortality 

“I don’t know,” said Miranda. “How should I know? 
She was very beautiful,” she said, as if this explained 
everything. “Everybody said she was very beautiful.” 

“Not everybody,” said Cousin Eva, firmly, shaking 
her head. “I for one never thought so. They made en- 
tirely too much fuss over her. She was good-looking 
enough, but why did they think she was beautiful? I 
cannot understand it. She was too thin when she was 
young, and later I always thought she was too fat, and 
again in her last year she was altogether too thin. She 
always got herself up to be looked at, and so people 
looked, of course. She rode too hard, and she danced 
too freely, and she talked too much, and you’d have to 
be blind, deaf and dumb not to notice her. I don’t mean 
she was loud or vulgar, she wasn’t, but she was too free,'' 
said Cousin Eva. She stopped for breath and put a pep^ 
permint in her mouth. Miranda could see Cousin Eva 
on the platform, making her speeches, stopping to take 
a peppermint. But why did she hate Aunt Amy so, when 
Aunt Amy was dead and she alive? Wasn’t being alive 

“And her illness wasn’t romantic either,” said Cousin 
Eva, “though to hear them tell it she faded like a lily. 
Well, she coughed blood, if that’s romantic. If they had 
made her take proper care of herself, if she had been 
nursed sensibly, she might have been alive today. But 


Old Mortality 

no, nothing of the kind. She lay wrapped in beautiful 
shawls on a sofa with flowers around her, eating as she 
liked or not eating, getting up after a hemorrhage and 
going out to ride or dance, sleeping with the windows 
closed; with crowds coming in and out laughing and 
talking at all hours, and Amy sitting up so her hair 
wouldn’t get out of curl. And why wouldn’t that sort 
of thing kill a well person in time? I have almost died 
twice in my life,” said Cousin Eva, “and both times 1 
was sent to a hospital where I belonged and left there 
until I came out. And I came out,” she said, her voice 
deepening to a bugle note, “and I went to work again.” 

“Beauty goes, character stays,” said the small voice 
of axiomatic morality in Miranda’s ear. It was a dreary 
prospect; why was a strong character so deforming? 
Miranda felt she truly wanted to be strong, but how 
could she face it, seeing what it did to one? 

“She had a lovely complexion,” said Cousin Eva, 
“perfectly transparent with a flush on each cheekbone. 
But it was tuberculosis, and is disease beautiful? And 
she brought it on herself by drinking lemon and salt to 
stop her periods when she wanted to go to dances. 
There was a superstition among young girls about 
that. They fancied that young men could tell what ailed 
them by touching their hands, or even by looking at 
them. As if it mattered? But they were terribly self- 


Old Mortality 

conscious and they had immense respect for man’s 
worldly wisdom in those days. My own notion is that 
a man couldn’t— but anyway, the whole thing was 

“I should have thought they’d have stayed at home 
if they couldn’t manage better than that,” said Miranda, 
feeling very knowledgeable and modern. 

“They didn’t dare. Those parties and dances were 
their market, a girl couldn’t afford to miss out, there 
were always rivals waiting to cut the ground from under 
her. The rivalry—” said Cousin Eva, and her head lifted, 
she arched like a cavalry horse getting a whiff of the 
battlefield— “you can’t imagine what the rivalry was like. 
The way those girls treated each other— nothing was toe 
mean, nothing too false—” 

Cousin Eva wrung her hands. “It was just sex,” she 
said in despair; “their minds dwelt on nothing else. They 
didn’t call it that, it was all smothered under pretty 
names, but that’s all it was, sex.” She looked out of the 
window into the darkness, her sunken cheek near 
Miranda flushed deeply. She turned back. “I took to 
the soap box and the platform when I was called upon,” 
she said proudly, “and I went to jail when it was neces- 
sary, and my condition didn’t make any difference. I 
was booed and jeered and shoved around just as if I had 
been in perfect health. But it was part of our philosophy 


Old Mortality 

not to let our physical handicaps make any difference 
to our work. You know what I mean,” she said, as if 
until now it was all mystery. “Well, Amy carried her- 
self with more spirit than the others, and she didn’t 
seem to be making any sort of fight, but she was simply 
sex-ridden, like the rest. She behaved as if she hadn’t a 
rival on earth, and she pretended not to know what 
marriage was about, but I know better. None of them 
had, and they didn’t want to have, anything else to 
think about, and they didn’t really know anything about 
that, so they simply festered inside— they festered—” 

Miranda found herself deliberately watching a long 
procession of living corpses, festering women stepping 
gaily towards the charnel house, their corruption con- 
cealed under laces and flowers, their dead faces lifted 
smiling, and thought quite coldly, “Of course it was not 
like that. This is no more true than what I was told be- 
fore, it’s every bit as romantic,” and she realized that 
she was tired of her intense Cousin Eva, she wanted to 
go to sleep, she wanted to be at home, she wished it 
were tomorrow and she could see her father and her 
sister, who were so alive and solid; who would mention 
her freckles and ask her if she wanted something to eat. 

“My mother was not like that,” she said, childishly. 
“My mother was a perfectly natural woman who liked 

Old Mortality 

to cook. I have seen some of her sewing,” she said. “1 
have read her diary.” 

“Your mother was a saint,” said Cousin Eva, auto- 

Miranda sat silent, outraged. “My mother was noth- 
ing of tlic sort,” she wanted to fling in Cousin Eva’s 
big front teeth. But Cousin Eva had been gathering bit- 
terness until more speech came of it. 

“‘Hold your chin up, Eva,’ Amy used to tell me,” 
she began, doubling up both her fists and shaking them 
a little. “All my life the whole family bedeviled me 
about my chin. My entire girlhood was spoiled by it. 
Can you imagine,” she asked, with a ferocity that seemed 
much too deep for this one cause, “people who call 
themselves civilized spoiling life for a young girl because 
she had one unlucky feature? Of course, you understand 
perfectly it was all in the very best humor, everybody 
was very amusing about it, no harm meant— oh, no, no 
harm at all. That is the hellish thing about it. It is that 
I can’t forgive,” she cried out, and she twisted her hands 
together as if they were rags. “Ah, the family,” she said, 
releasing her breath and sitting back quietly, “the whole 
hideous institution should be wiped from the face of the 
earth. It is the root of all human wrongs,” she ended, 
and relaxed, and her face became calm. She was trem- 
bling. Miranda reached out and took Cousin Eva’s hand 


Old Mortality 

and held it. The hand fluttered and lay still, and Cousin 
Eva said, “You’ve not the faintest idea what some of 
us went through, but I wanted you to hear the other 
side of the story. And I’m keeping you up when you 
need your beauty sleep,” she said grimly, stirring her- 
self with an immense rustle of petticoats. 

Miranda pulled herself together, feeling limp, and 
stood up. Cousin Eva put out her hand again, and drew 
Miranda down to her. “Good night, you dear child,” 
she said, “to think you’re grown up.” Miranda hesi- 
tated, then quite suddenly kissed her Cousin Eva on the 
cheek. The black eyes shown brightly through u'ater 
for an instant, and Cousin Eva said with a warm note 
in her sharp clear orator’s voice, “Tomorrow we’ll be 
at home again. I’m looking forward to it, aren’t you? 
Good night.” 

Miranda fell asleep while she was getting off her 
clothes. Instantly it was morning again. She was still 
trying to close her suitcase when the train pulled into 
the small station, and there on the platform she saw her 
father, looking tired and anxious, his hat pulled over his 
eyes. She rapped on the window to catch his attention, 
then ran out and threw herself upon him. He said, “Well, 
here’s my big girl,” as if she were still seven, but his 
hands on her arms held her off, the tone was forced. 
There was no welcome for her, and there had not been 


Old Mortality 

since she had run away. She could not persuade herseW 
to remember how it would be; between one home-corn' 
ing and the next her mind refused to accept its own 
knowledge. Her father looked over her head and said, 
without surprise, “Why, hello, Eva, I’m glad somebody 
sent you a telegram.” Miranda, rebuffed again, let her 
arms fall away again, with the same painful dull jerk of 
the heart. 

“No one in my family,” said Eva, her face framed in 
the thin black veil she reserved, evidently, for family 
funerals, “ever sent me a telegram in my life. I had the 
news from young Keziah who had it from young Ga- 
briel. I suppose Gabe is here?” 

“Everybody seems to be here,” said Father. “The 
house is getting full.” 

“I’ll go to the hotel if you like,” said Cousin Eva. 

“Damnation, no,” said Father. “I didn’t mean that. 
You’ll come with us where you belong.” 

Skid, the handy man, grabbed the suitcases and started 
down the rocky village street. “We’ve got the car,” said 
Father. He took Miranda by the hand, then dropped it 
again, and reached for Cousin Eva’s elbow. 

“I’m perfectly able, thank you,” said Cousin Eva. 
shying away. 

“If you’re so independent now,” said Father, “God 
help us when you get that vote.” 


Old Mortality 

Cousin Eva pushed back her veil. She was smiling 
merrily. She liked Harry, she always had liked him, he 
could tease as much as he liked. She slipped her arm 
through his. “So it’s all over with poor Gabriel, isn’t it?” 

“Oh, yes,” said Father, “it’s all over, all right. They’re 
pegging out pretty regularly now. It will be our turn 
next, Eva?” 

“I don’t know, and I don’t care,” said Eva, recklessly. 
“It’s good to be back now and then, Harry, even if it 
is only for funerals. I feel sinfully cheerful.” 

“Oh, Gabriel wouldn’t mind, he’d like seeing you 
cheerful. Gabriel was the cheerfulest cuss I ever saw, 
when we were young. Life for Gabriel,” said Father, 
“was just one perpetual picnic.” 

“Poor fellow,” said Cousin Eva. 

“Poor old Gabriel,” said Father, heavily. 

Miranda walked along beside her father, feeling home- 
less, but not sorry for it. He had not forgiven her, she 
knew that. When would he? She could not guess, but 
she felt it would come of itself, without words and with- 
out acknowledgment on either side, for by the time it 
arrived neither of them would need to remember what 
had caused their division, nor why it had seemed so im- 
portant. Surely old people cannot liold their grudges 
forever because the young want to live, too, she thought, 
in her arrogance, her pride. I will make my own mis- 


Old Mortality 

takes, not yours; I cannot depend upon you beyond ? 
certain point, why depend at all? There was something 
more beyond, but this was a first step to take, and she 
took it, walking in silence beside her elders who were 
no longer Cousin Eva and Father, since they had for- 
gotten her presence, but had become Eva and Harry, 
wlio knew each other well, who were comfortable with 
each other, being contemporaries on equal terms, who 
occupied by right their place in this world, at the time 
of life to which they had arrived by paths familiar to 
them both. They need not play their roles of daughter, 
of son, to aged persons who did not understand them; 
nor of father and elderly female cousin to young per- 
sons whom they did not understand. They were pre- 
cisely themselves; their eyes cleared, their voices relaxed 
into perfect naturalness, they need not weigh their 
words or calculate the effect of their manner. “It is I 
who have no place,” thought Miranda. “Where are my 
own people and my own time?” She resented, slowly 
and deeply and in profound silence, the presence of 
these aliens w'ho lectured and admonished her, who 
loved her with bitterness and denied her the right to 
look at the world with her own ey^es, who demanded 
that she accept their version of life and yet could not 
tell her the truth, not in the smallest thing. “I hate them 
both,” her most inner and secret mind said plainly, “/ 


Old Mortality 

vnll be free of them, I shall not even remember them.” 

She sat in the front seat with Skid, the Negro boy. 
“Come back with us, Miranda,” said Cousin Eva, with 
the sharp little note of elderly command, “there is plenty 
of room.” 

“No, thank you,” said Afiranda, in a firm cold voice. 
“I’m quite comfortable. Don’t disturb yourself.” 

Neither of them noticed her voice or her manner. 
They sat back and went on talking steadily in their 
friendly family voices, talking about their dead, their 
living, their affairs, their prospects, their common mem- 
ories, interrupting each other, catching each other up on 
small points of dispute, laughing with a gaiety and 
freshness Miranda had not known they were capable 
of, going over old stories and finding new points of in- 
terest in them. 

Miranda could not hear the stories above the noisy 
motor, but she felt she knew them well, or stories like 
them. She knew too many stories like them, she wanted 
something new of her own. The language was familiar 
to them, but not to her, not any more. The house, her 
father had said, was full. It would be full of cousins, 
many of them strangers. Would there be any young 
cousins there, to whom she could talk about things they 
both knew? She felt a vague distaste for seeing cousins. 
There were too many of them and her blood rebelled 


Old Mortality 

against the ties of blood. She was sick to death of cous- 
ins. She did not want any more ties with this house, 
she was going to leave it, and she was not going back 
to her husband’s family either. She would have no more 
bonds that smothered her in love and hatred. She knew 
now why she had run away to marriage, and she knew 
that she was going to run away from marriage, and she 
was not going to stay in any place, with anyone, that 
threatened to forbid her making her own discoveries, 
that said “No” to her. She hoped no one had taken her 
old room, she would like to sleep there once more, she 
would say good-by there where she had loved sleeping 
once, sleeping and waking and waiting to be grown, to 
begin to live. Oh, what is life, she asked herself in des- 
perate seriousness, in those childish unanswerable words, 
and what shall I do with it? It is something of my own, 
she thought in a fury of Jealous possessiveness, what 
shall I make of it? She did not know that she asked 
herself this because all her earliest training had argued 
that life was a substance, a material to be used, it took 
shape and direction and meaning only as the possessor 
guided and worked it; living was a progress of con- 
tinuous and varied acts of the will directed towards a 
definite end. She had been assured that there were good 
and evil ends, one must make a choice. But v'hat was 
good, and what was evil? I hate love, she thought, as if 


Old Mortality 

this were the answer, I hate loving and being loved, I 
hate it. And her disturbed and seething mind received a 
shock of comfort from this sudden collapse of an old 
painful structure of distorted images and misconcep- 
tions. “You don’t know anything about it,” said Miranda 
to herself, with extraordinary clearness as if she were 
an elder admonishing some younger misguided creature. 
“You have to find out about it.” But nothing in her 
prompted her to decide, “1 will now do this, I will be 
that, I will go yonder, I will take a certain road to a cer- 
tain end.” There are questions to be asked first, she 
thought, but who will answer them? No one, or there 
will be too many answers, none of them right. What is 
the truth, she asked herself as intently as if the ques- 
tion had never been asked, the truth, even about the 
smallest, the least important of all the things I must find 
out? and where shall I begin to look for it? Mer mind 
closed stubbornly against remembering, not the past but 
the legend of the past, other people’s memory of the 
past, at which she had spent her life peering in wonder 
like a child at a magic-lantern show. Ah, but there is 
my own life to come yet, she thought, my own life now 
and beyond. I don’t want any promises, I won’t have 
false hopes, I won’t be romantic about myself. I can’t 
live in their world any longer, she told herself, listening 
to the voices back of her. Let them tell their stories to 


Old Mortality 

each other. Let them go on explaining how things hap- 
pened. I don’t care. At least I can know the truth about 
what happens to me, she assured herself silently, mak- 
ing a promise to herself, in her hopefulness, her igno- 



Noon TVine 

Time: 1896-1905 

Place: Small South Texas Farm 

THE two grubby small boys with tow-colored hair 
who were digging among the ragweed in the front yard 
sat back on their heels and said, “Hello,” when the tall 
bony man with straw-colored hair turned in at their 
gate. He did not pause at the gate; it had swung back, 
conveniently half open, long ago, and was now sunk so 
firmly on its broken hinges no one thought of trying to 
close it. He did not even glance at the small boys, much 
less give them good-day. He just clumped down liis big 
square dusty shoes one after the other steadily, like a 
man following a plow, as if he knew the place well and 
knew where he was going and what he would find there. 
Rounding the right-hand corner of the house under the 
row of chinabcrry trees, he walked up to the side porch 
where Mr. Thompson w'as pushing a big swing chum 
back and forth. 

Mr. Thompson was a tough weather-beaten man with 
stiff black hair and a week’s growth of black whiskers. 


Noon Wine 

He was a noisy proud man who held his neck so straight 
his whole face stood level with his Adam’s apple, and 
the whiskers continued down his neck and disappeared 
into a black thatch under his open collar. The chum 
rumbled and swished like the belly of a trotting horse, 
and Mr. Thompson seemed somehow to be driving a 
horse with one hand, reining it in and urging it forward; 
and every now and then he turned halfway around and 
squirted a tremendous spit of tobacco juice out over the 
steps. The door stones were brown and gleaming with 
fresh tobacco juice. Mr. Thompson had been churning 
quite a while and he was tired of it. He was just fetch- 
ing a mouthful of juice to squirt again when the stranger 
came around the comer and stopped. Mr. Thompson 
saw a narrow-chested man with blue eyes so pale they 
were almost white, looking and not looking at him from 
a long gaunt face, under white eyebrows. Mr. Thomp- 
son judged him to be another of these Irishmen, by his 
long upper lip. 

“Howdy do, sir,” said Mr. Thompson politely, swing- 
ing his chum. 

“I need work,” said the man, clearly enough but with 
some kind of foreign accent Mr. Thompson couldn’t 
place. It wasn’t Cajun and it wasn’t Nigger and it wasn’t 
Dutch, so it had him stumped. “You need a man here?” 

Mr. Thompson gave the chum a great shove and it 


Noon Wine 

swung back and forth several times on its own mo- 
mentum. He sat on the steps, shot his quid into the grass, 
and said, “Set down. Maybe we can make a deal. I been 
kinda lookin’ round for somebody. I had two niggers 
but they got into a cutting scrape up the creek last 
week, one of ’em dead now and the other in the hoose- 
gow at Cold Springs. Neither one of ’em worth killing, 
come right down to it. So it looks like I’d better get 
somebody. Where’d you work last?” 

“North Dakota,” said the man, folding himself down 
on the other end of the steps, but not as if he were tired. 
He folded up and settled down as if it would be a long 
time before he got up again. He never had looked at 
Mr. Thompson, but there wasn’t anything sneaking in 
his eye, either. He didn’t seem to be looking an}'where 
else. His eyes sat in his head and let things pass by them. 
They didn’t seem to be expecting to see anything worth 
looking at. Mr. Thompson waited a long time for the 
man to say something more, but he had gone into a 
brown study. 

“North Dakota,” said Mr. Thompson, trying to re- 
member where that was. “That’s a right smart distance 
off, seems to me.” 

“I can do everything on farm,” said the man; “cheap. 
I need work.” 

Mr. Thompson settled himself to get down to busi- 


Noon Wine 

ness. “My name’s Thompson, Mr. Royal Earle Thomp- 
son,” he said. 

“I’m Mr. Helton,” said the man, “Mr. Olaf Helton.” 
He did not move. 

“Well, now,” said Mr. Thompson in his most carry- 
ing voice, “I guess we’d better talk turkey.” 

When Mr. Thompson expected to drive a bargain he 
always grew very hearty and jovial. There was nothing 
wrong with him except that he hated like the devil to 
pay wages. He said so himself. “You furnish grub and a 
shack,” he said, “and then you got to pay ’em besides. 
It ain’t right. Besides the wear and tear on your imple- 
ments,” he said, “they just let everything go to rack and 
ruin.” So he began to laugh and shout his way through 
the deal. 

“Now, what I want to know is, how much you fixing 
to gouge outa me?” he brayed, slapping his knee. After 
he had kept it up as long as he could, he quieted down, 
feeling a little sheepish, and cut himself a chew, Mr. 
Helton was staring out somewhere between the barn 
and the orchard, and seemed to be sleeping with his eyes 

“I’m good worker,” said Mr. Helton as from the 
tomb. “I get dollar a day.” 

Mr. Thompson was so shocked he forgot to start 
laughing again at the top of his voice until it was nearly 


Noon Wine 

too late to do any good. “Haw, haw,” he bawled. 
“Why, for a dollar a day I’d hire out myself. What 
kinda work is it where they pay you a dollar a day?” 

“Wheatfields, North Dakota,” said Mr. Helton, not 
even smiling. 

Mr. Thompson stopped laughing. “Well, this ain’t 
any wheatfield by a long shot. This is more of a dairy 
farm,” he said, feeling apologetic. “My wife, she was set 
on a dairy, she seemed to like working around with 
cows and calves, so I humored her. But it was a mis- 
take,” he said. “I got nearly everything to do, anyhow. 
My wife ain’t very strong. She’s sick today, that’s a fact. 
She’s been porely for the last few days. We plant a little 
feed, and a corn patch, and there’s the orchard, and a 
few pigs and chickens, but our main hold is the cows. 
Now just speakin’ as one man to another, there ain’t any 
money in it. Now I can’t give you no dollar a day be- 
cause ackshally I don’t make that much out of it. No, 
sir, we get along on a lot less than a dollar a day. I’d 
say, if we figger up everything in the long run. Now, 
I paid seven dollars a month to the two niggers, three- 
fifty each, and grub, but what 1 say is, one middlin’-good 
white man ekals a whole passel of niggers any day in 
the week, so I’ll give you seven dollars and you eat at 
the table with us, and you’ll be treated like a white man, 
as the feller says—” 


Noon Wine 

“That’s all right,” said Mr. Helton. “I take it.” 

“Well, now I guess we’ll call it a deal, hey?” Mr. 
Thompson jumped up as if he had remembered impor- 
tant business. “Now, you just take hold of that churn 
and give it a few swings, will you, while I ride to town 
on a coupla little errands. I ain’t been able to leave the 
place all week. I guess you know what to do with butter 
after you get it, don’t you?” 

“I know,” said Mr. Helton without turning his head. 
“I know butter business.” He had a strange drawling 
voice, and even when he spoke only two words his 
voice waved slowly up and down and the emphasis was 
in the wrong place. Mr. Thompson wondered what kind 
of foreigner Mr. Helton could be. 

“Now just where did you say you worked last?” he 
asked, as if he expected Mr. Helton to contradict him- 

“North Dakota,” said Mr. Helton. 

“Well, one place is good as another once you get used 
to it,” said Mr. Thompson, amply. “You’re a forriner, 
ain’t you?” 

“I’m a Swede,” said Mr. Helton, beginning to swing 
the churn. 

Mr. Thompson let forth a booming laugh, as if this 
was the best joke on somebody he’d ever heard. “Well, 
I’ll be damned,” he said at the top of his voice. “A 


Noon Wine 

Swede: well, now. I’m afraid you’ll get pretty lonesome 
around here. I never seen any Swedes in this neck of 
the woods.” 

“That’s all right,” said Mr. Helton. He went on 
swinging the churn as if he had been working on the 
place for years. 

“In fact, I might as well tell you, you’re practically 
the first Swede I ever laid eyes on.” 

“That’s all right,” said Mr. Helton. 

Mr. Thompson went into the front room where Mrs. 
Thompson was lying down, with the green shades 
drawn. She had a bowl of water by her on the table 
and a wet cloth over her eyes. She took the cloth off 
at the sound of Mr. Thompson’s boots and said, “What’s 
all the noise out there? Who is it?” 

“Got a feller out there says he’s a Swede, Ellie,” said 
Mr. Thompson; “says he knows how to make butter.” 

“I hope it turns out to be the truth,” said Mrs. 
Thompson. “Looks like my head never will get any 

“Don’t you worry,” said Mr. Thompson. “You fret 
too much. Now I’m gointa ride into town and get a 
little order of groceries.” 

“Don’t you linger, now, Mr. Thompson,” said Mrs. 


Noon Wine 

Thompson. “Don’t go to the hotel.” She meant the 
saloon; the proprietor also had rooms for rent upstairs. 

“Just a coupla little toddies,” said Mr. Thompson, 
laughing loudly, “never hurt anybody.” 

“I never took a dram in my life,” said Mrs. Thomp- 
son, “and what’s more I never will.” 

“I wasn’t talking about the womenfolks,” said Mr. 

The sound of the swinging chum rocked Mrs. 
Thompson first into a gentle doze, then a deep drowse 
from which she waked suddenly knowing that the 
swinging had stopped a good while ago. She sat up 
shading her weak eyes from the flat strips of late sum- 
mer sunlight between the sill and the lowered shades. 
There she was, thank God, still alive, with supper to 
cook but no churning on hand, and her head still be- 
wildered, but easy. Slowly she realized she had been 
hearing a new sound even in her sleep. Somebody was 
playing a tune on the harmonica, not merely shrilling 
up and down making a sickening noise, but really play- 
ing a pretty tune, merry and sad. 

She went out through the kitchen, stepped off the 
porch, and stood facing the east, shading her eyes. When 
her vision cleared and settled, she saw a long, pale-haired 
man in blue jeans sitting in the doorway of the hired 
man’s shack, tilted back in a kitchen chair, blowing away 


Noon Wine 

at the harmonica with his eyes shut. Mrs. Thompson’s 
heart fluttered and sank. Heavens, he looked lazy and 
worthless, he did, now. First a lot of no-count fiddling 
darkies and then a no-count white man. It was just like 
Mr. Thompson to take on that kind. She did wish he 
would be more considerate, and take a little trouble with 
his business. She wanted to believe in her husband, and 
there were too many times when she couldn’t. She 
wanted to believe that tomorrow, or at least the day 
after, life, such a battle at best, was going to be better. 

She walked past the shack without glancing aside, 
stepping carefully, bent at the waist because of the nag- 
ging pain in her side, and went to the springhouse, try- 
ing to harden her mind to speak very plainly to that new 
hired man if he had not done his work. 

The milk house was only another shack of weather- 
beaten boards nailed together hastily years before be- 
cause they needed a milk house; it was meant to be tem- 
porary, and it was; already shapeless, leaning this way 
and that over a perpetual cool trickle of water that fell 
from a little grot, almost choked with pallid ferns. No 
one else in the whole countryside had such a spring on 
his land. Mr. and Mrs. Thompson felt they had a for- 
tune in that spring, if ever they got around to doing 
anything with it. 

Rickety wooden shelves clung at hazard in the square 


Noon Wine 

around the small pool where the larger pails of milk 
and butter stood, fresh and sweet in the cold water. One 
hand supporting her flat, pained side, the other shading 
her eyes, Mrs. Thompson leaned over and peered into 
the pails. The cream had been skimmed and set aside, 
there was a rich roll of butter, the wooden molds and 
shallow pans had been scrubbed and scalded for the first 
time in who knows when, the barrel was full of butter- 
milk ready for the pigs and the weanling calves, the 
hard packed-dirt floor had been swept smooth. /Mrs. 
Thompson straightened up again, smiling tenderly. She 
had been ready to scold him, a poor man who needed 
a job, who had just come there and who might not have 
been expected to do things properly at first. There was 
nothing she could do to make up for the injustice she 
had done him in her thoughts but to tell him how she 
appreciated his good clean work, finished already, in no 
time at all. She ventured near the door of the shack with 
her careful steps; Mr. Helton opened his eyes, stopped 
playing, and brought his chair down straight, but did 
not look at her, or get up. She was a little frail woman 
with long thick brown hair in a braid, a suffering patient 
mouth and diseased eyes which cried easily. She wove 
her fingers into an eyeshade, thumbs on temples, and, 
winking her tearful lids, said with a polite little manner, 
“Howdy do, sir. I’m Miz Thompson, and I wanted to 


Noon Wine 

tell you I think you did real well in the milk house. It’s 
always been a hard place to keep.” 

He said, “That’s all right,” in a slow voice, without 

Mrs. Thompson waited a moment. “That’s a pretty 
tune you’re playing. Most folks don’t seem to get much 
music out of a harmonica.” 

Mr. Helton sat humped over, long legs sprawling! his 
spine in a bow, running his thumb over the square 
mouth-stops; except for his moving hand he might have 
been asleep. The harmonica was a big shiny new one, 
and Mrs. Thompson, her gaze wandering about, counted 
five others, all good and expensive, standing in a row 
on the shelf beside his cot. “He must carry them around 
in his jumper pocket,” she thought, and noted there was 
not a sign of any other possession lying about. “I sec 
you’re mighty fond of music,” she said. “M^e used to 
have an old accordion, and Mr. Thompson could plaj 
it right smart, but the little boys broke it up.” 

Mr. Helton stood up rather suddenly, the chair clat 
tered under him, his knees straightened though his shouf 
ders did not, and he looked at the floor as if he wenf 
listening carefully. “You know how little boys are,” 
said Mrs. Thompson. “You’d better set them harmonicas 
on a high shelf or they’ll be after them. They’re great 


Noon Wine 

hands for getting into things. I try to learn ’em, but it 
don’t do much good.” 

Mr. Helton, in one wide gesture of his long arms, 
swept his harmonicas up against his chest, and from 
there transferred them in a row to the ledge where the 
roof joined to the wall. He pushed them back almost 
out of sight. 

“That’ll do, maybe,” said Mrs. Thompson. “Now I 
wonder,” she said, turning and closing her eyes help- 
les.sly against the stronger western light, “I wonder what 
became of them little tads. I can’t keep up with them.” 
She had a way of speaking about her children as if they 
were rather troublesome nephews on a prolonged visit. 

“Down by the creek,” said Mr. Helton, in his hollow 
voice. Mrs. Thompson, pausing confusedly, decided he 
had answered her question. He stood in silent patience, 
not exactly waiting for her to go, perhaps, but pretty 
plainly not waiting for anything else. Mrs. Thompson 
was perfectly accustomed to all kinds of men full of all 
kinds of cranky ways. The point was, to find out just 
how Mr. Helton’s crankiness was different from any 
other man’s, and then get used to it, and let him feel at 
home. Her father had been cranky, her brothers and 
uncles had all been set in their ways and none of them 
alike; and every hired man she’d ever seen had quirks 

Noon Wine 

and crotchets of his own. Now here was Mr. Helton, 
who was a Swede, who wouldn’t talk, and who played 
the harmonica besides. 

“They’ll be needing something to eat,” said Mrs. 
Thompson in a vague friendly way, “pretty soon. Now 
I wonder what I ought to be thinking about for sup- 
per? Now what do you like to eat, Mr. Helton? We al- 
ways have plenty of good butter and milk and cream, 
that’s a blessing. Mr. Thompson says we ought to sell 
all of it, but I say my family comes first.” Her little face 
went all out of shape in a pained blind smile. 

“I eat anything,” said Mr. Helton, his words wander- 
ing up and down. 

He can't talk, for one thing, thought Mrs. Thompsonv 
it’s a shame to keep at him when he don’t know the lan- 
guage good. She took a slow step away from the shack, 
looking back over her shoulder. “We usually have corn- 
bread except on Sundays,” she told him. “I suppose in 
your part of the country you don’t get much good corn- 

Not a word from Mr. Helton. She saw from her eye- 
corner that he had sat down again, looking at his har- 
monica, chair tilted. She hoped he would remember it 
was getting near milking time. As she moved away, he 
started playing again, the same tune. 


Noon Wine 

Milking time came and went. Mrs. Thompson saw Mr. 
Helton going back and forth between the cow barn and 
the milk house. He swung along in an easy lope, shoul- 
ders bent, head hanging, the big buckets balancing like 
a pair of scales at the ends of his bony arms. Mr. Thomp- 
son rode in from town sitting straighter than usual, chin 
in, a towsack full of supplies swung behind the saddle. 
After a trip to the barn, he came into the kitchen full of 
good will, and gav'e Mrs. Thompson a hearty smack on 
the cheek after dusting her face off with his tough whis- 
kers. He had been to the hotel, that was plain. “Took a 
look around the premises, Ellie,” he shouted. “That 
Swede sure is grinding out the labor. But he is the closest 
mouthed feller I ever met up with in all my days. Looks 
like he’s scared he’ll crack his jaw if he opens his front 

Mrs. Thompson was stirring up a big bowl of butter- 
milk cornbread. “You smell like a toper, Mr. Thomp- 
son,” she said with perfect dignity. “I wish you’d get 
one of the little boys to bring me in an extra load of fire- 
wood. I’m thinking about baking a batch of cookies to- 

Mr. Thompson, all at once smelling the liquor on his 
own breath, sneaked out, justly rebuked, and brought in 
the firewood himself. Arthur and Herbert, grubby from 
thatched head to toes, from skin to shirt, came stamping 

Noon Wine 

in yelling for supper. “Go wash your faces and comb 
your hair,” said Mrs. Thompson, automatically. They 
retired to the porch. Each one put his hand under the 
pump and wet his forelock, combed it down with his 
fingers, and returned at once to the kitchen, where all 
the fair prospects of life were centered. Mrs. Thompson 
set an extra plate and commanded Arthur, the eldest, 
eight years old, to call Mr. Helton for supper. 

Arthur, without moving from the spot, bawled like a 
bull calf, “Saaaaaay, Hellllllton, suuuuuupper’s ready!” 
and added in a lower voice, “You big Swede!” 

“Listen to me,” said Mrs. Thompson, “that’s no way 
to act. Now you go out there and ask liim decent, or I’ll 
get your daddy to give you a good licking.” 

Mr. Helton loomed, long and gloomy, in the door- 
way. “Sit right there,” boomed Mr. Thompson, waving 
his arm. Mr. Helton swung his square shoes across the 
kitchen in two steps, slumped onto the bench and sat. 
Mr. Thompson occupied his chair at the head of the 
table, the two boys scrambled into place opposite Mr. 
Helton, and Mrs. Thompson sat at the end nearest the 
stove. Mrs. Thompson clasped her hands, bowed her 
head and said aloud hastily, “Lord, for all these and Thy 
other blessings we thank Thee in Jesus’ name, amen,” 
trying to finish before I lerbert’s rusty little paw reached 
the nearest dish. Otherwise she would be duty-bound to 


Noon Wme 

send him away from the table, and growing children 
need their meals. Mr. Thompson and Arthur always 
waited, but Herbert, aged six, was too young to take 
training yet. 

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson tried to engage Mr. Helton 
in conversation, but it was a failure. They tried first the 
weather, and then the crops, and then the cows, but Mr. 
Helton simply did not reply. Mr. Thompson then told 
something funny he had seen in town. It was about some 
of the other old grangers at the hotel, friends of his, giv- 
ing beer to a goat, and the goat’s subsequent behavior. 
Mr. Helton did not seem to hear. Mrs. Thompson 
laughed dutifully, but she didn’t think it was very 
funny. She had heard it often before, though Mr. 
Thompson, each time he told it, pretended it had hap- 
pened that self-same day. It must have happened years 
ago if it ever happened at all, and it had never been a 
story that Mrs. Thompson thought suitable for mixed 
company. The whole thing came of Mr. Thompson’s 
weakness for a dram too much now and then, though he 
voted for local option at every election. She passed the 
food to Mr. Helton, who took a helping of everything, 
but not much, not enough to keep him up to his full 
powers if he expected to go on working the way he had 

At last, he took a fair-sized piece of combread, wiped 

Noon Wine 

his plate up as clean as if it had been licked by a hound 
dog, stuffed his mouth full, and, still chewing, slid off 
the bench and started for the door. 

“Good night, Mr. Helton,” said Mrs. Thompson, and 
the other Thompsons took it up in a scattered chorus. 
“Good night, Mr. Helton!” 

“Good night,” said Mr. Helton’s wavering voice 
grudgingly from the darkness. 

“Gude not,” said Arthur, imitating Mr. Helton. 

“Gude not,” said Herbert, the copy-cat. 

“You don’t do it right,” said Arthur. “Now listen to 
me. Guuuuuude naht,” and he ran a hollow scale in a 
luxury of successful impersonation. Herbert almost went 
into a fit with joy. 

“Now you stop that,” said Mrs. Thompson. “He can’t 
help the way he talks. You ought to be ashamed of your- 
selves, both of you, making fun of a poor stranger like 
that. How’d you like to be a stranger in a strange land?” 

“I’d like it,” said Arthur. “I think it would be fun.” 

“They’re both regular heathens, Ellie,” said Mr. 
Thompson. “Just plain ignoramuses.” He turned the 
face of awful fatherhood upon his young. “You’re both 
going to get sent to school next year, and that’ll knock 
some sense into you.” 

“I’m going to git sent to the ’formatorj’- when I’m old 
enough,” piped up Herbert. “That’s where I’m goin’.” 


Noon Wine 

“Oh, you are, are you?” asked Mr. Thompson, “Who 
says so?” 

“The Sunday School Supintendant,” said Herbert, a 
bright boy showing off. 

“You see?” said Mr. Thompson, staring at his wife. 
“What did I tell you?” He became a hurricane of wrath. 
“Get to bed, you two,” he roared until his Adam’s apple 
shuddered. “Get now before I take the hide off you!” 
They got, and shortly from their attic bedroom the 
sounds of scuffling and snorting and giggling and growl- 
ing filled the house and shook the kitchen ceiling. 

Mrs. Thompson held her head and said in a small un- 
certain voice, “It’s no use picking on them when they’re 
so young and tender. I can’t .stand it.” 

“My goodness, Elbe,” said Air. Thompson, “we’ve got 
to raise ’em. We can’t just let ’em grow up hog wild.” 

She went on in another tone. “That Mr. Helton seems 
all right, even if he can’t be made to talk. Wonder how 
he comes to be so far from home.” 

“Like I said, he isn’t no whamper-jaw,” said Mr. 
Thompson, “but he sure knows how to lay out the 
work. I guess that’s the main thing around here. Coun- 
try’s full of fellers trampin’ round looking for work.” 

Mrs. Thompson was gathering up the dishes. She now 
gathered up Mr. Thompson’s plate from under his chin. 
“To tell you the honest truth,” she remarked, “I think 


Noon Wine 

it’s a mighty good change to have a man round the place 
who knows how to work and keep his mouth shut. 
Means he’ll keep out of our business. Not that we’ve got 
anything to hide, but it’s convenient.” 

“That’s a fact,” said Mr. Thompson. “Haw, haw,” he 
shouted suddenly. “Means you can do all the talking, 

“The only thing,” went on Mrs. Thompson, “is this: 
he don’t eat hearty enough to suit me. I like to see a man 
set down and relish a good meal. Aly granma used to 
say it was no use putting dependence on a man who 
won’t set down and make out his dinner. I hope it won’t 
be that way this time.” 

“Tell yoti the truth, Ellie,” said Mr. Thompson, pick- 
ing his teeth with a fork and leaning back in the best of 
good humors, “I always thought your granma was a 
ter’ble ole fool. She’d just say the first thing that popped 
into her head and call it God’s wisdom.” 

“My granma wasn’t anybody’s fool. Nine times out of 
ten she knew what she was talking about. I always say, 
the first thing you think is the best thing you can say.” 

“Well,” said. Mr. Thompson, going into another 
shout, “you’re so reefined about that goat story, you just 
try speaking out in mixed comp’ny sometime! You just 
try it. S’pose you happened to be thinking about a hen 
and a rooster, hey? I reckon you’d shock the Babtist 


Noon Wine 

preacher!” He gave her a good pinch on her thin little 
rump. “No more meat on you than a rabbit,” he said, 
fondly. “Now I like ’em comfed.” 

Mrs. Thompson looked at him open-eyed and blushed. 
She could see better by lamplight. “Why, Mr. Thomp- 
son, sometimes I think you’re the evilest-minded man 
that ever lived.” She took a handful of hair on the crown 
of his head and gave it a good, slow pull. “That’s to 
show you how it feels, pinching so hard when you’re 
supposed to be playing,” she said, gently. 

In spite of his situation in life, Mr. Thompson had never 
been able to outgrow his deep conviction that running a 
dairy and chasing after chickens was woman’s work. He 
was fond of saying that he could plow a furrow, cut 
sorghum, shuck corn, handle a team, build a corn crib, 
as well as any man. Buying and selling, too, were man’s 
work. Twice a w'cek he drove the spring wagon to mar- 
ket with the fresh butter, a few eggs, fruits in their 
proper season, sold them, pocketed the change, and spent 
it as seemed best, being careful not to dig into Mrs. 
Thompson’s pin money. 

But from the first the cows worried him, coming up 
regularly twice a day to be milked, standing there re- 
proaching him with their smug female faces. Calves 


Noon Wine 

worried him, fighting the rope and strangling themselves 
until their eyes bulged, trying to get at the teat. Wres- 
tling with a calf unmanned him, like having to change a 
baby’s diaper. Milk worried him, coming bitter some- 
times, drying up, turning sour. Hens worried him) 
cackling, clucking, hatching out when you least ex- 
pected it and leading their broods into the barnyard 
where the horses could step on them; dying of roup and 
wryneck and getting plagues of chicken lice; laying eggs 
all over God’s creation so that half of them were spoiled 
before a man could find them, in spite of a rack of nests 
Mrs. Thompson had set out for them in the feed room. 
Hens were a blasted nuisance. 

Slopping hogs was hired man’s work, in Mr. Thomp- 
son’s opinion. Killing hogs was a job for the boss, but 
scraping them and cutting them up was for the hired 
man again; and again woman’s proper work was dress- 
ing meat, smoking, pickling, and making lard and saus- 
age. All his carefully limited fields of activity were re- 
lated somehow to Mr. Thompson’s feeling for the ap- 
pearance of things, his own appearance in the sight of 
God and man. “It don’t look right,” was his final reason 
for not doing anything he did not wish to do. 

It was his dignity and his reputation that he cared 
about, and there were only a few kinds of work manly 
enough for Mr. Thompson to undertake with his own 

Noon Wine 

hands. Mrs. Thompson, to whom so many forms of 
work would have been becoming, had simply gone down 
on him early. He saw, after a while, how short-sighted 
it had been of him to expect much from Mrs. Thomp- 
son; he had fallen in love with her delicate waist and 
lace-trimmed petticoats and big blue eyes, and, though 
all those charms had disappeared, she had in the mean- 
time become Elbe to him, not at all the same person as 
Miss Ellen Bridges, popular Sunday School teacher in 
the Mountain City First Baptist Church, but his dear 
wife, Elbe, who was not strong. Deprived as he was, 
however, of the main support in life which a man might 
expect in marriage, he had almost without knowing it re- 
signed himself to failure. Head erect, a prompt payer of 
taxes, yearly subscriber to the preacher’s salary, land 
owner and father of a family, employer, a hearty good 
fellow among men, Mr. Thompson knew, without put- 
ting it into words, that he had been going steadily down 
hill. God amighty, it did look like somebody around the 
place might take a rake in hand now and then and clear 
up the clutter around the barn and the kitchen steps. 
The wagon shed was so full of broken-down machinery 
and ragged harness and old wagon wheels and battered 
milk pails and rotting lumber you could hardly drive in 
there any more. Not a soul on the place would raise a 
hand to it, and as for him, he had all he could do with his 

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regular work. He would sometimes in the slack season sit 
for hours worrying about it, squirting tobacco on thf 
ragweeds growing in a thicket against the wood pile, 
wondering what a fellow could do, handicapped as he 
was. He looked forward to the boys growing up soon; 
he was going to put them through the mill just as his 
own father had done with him when he was a boy; they 
were going to learn how to take hold and run the place 
right. He wasn’t going to overdo it, but those two boys 
were going to earn their salt, or he’d know why. Great 
big lubbers sitting around whittling! Mr. Thompson 
sometimes grew quite enraged with them, when imagin- 
ing their possible future, big lubbers sitting around whit- 
tling or thinking about fishing trips. Well, he’d put a 
stop to that, mighty damn quick. 

As the seasons passed, and Mr. Helton took hold more 
and more, Mr. Thompson began to relax in his mind a 
little. There seemed to be nothing the fellow couldn’t do, 
all in the day’s work and as a matter of course. He got 
up at five o’clock in the morning, boiled his own coffee 
and fried his own bacon and was out in the cow lot be- 
fore Mr. Thompson had even begun to yawn, stretch, 
groan, roar and thump around looking for his jeans. He 
milked the cows, kept the milk house, and churned tlic 
butter; rounded the hens up and somehow persuaded 
them to lay in the nests, ’.-jt under the house and behind 


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the haystacks; he fed them regularly and they hatched 
out until you couldn’t set a foot down for them. Little 
by little the piles of trash around the barns and house 
disappeared. He carried buttermilk and corn to the hogs, 
and curried cockleburs out of the horses’ manes. He 
was gentle with the calves, if a little grim with the cows 
and hens; judging by his conduct, Mr. Helton had never 
heard of the difference between man’s and woman’s 
work on a farm. 

In the second year, he showed Mr. Thompson the pic- 
ture of a cheese press in a mail order catalogue, and said, 
“This is a good thing. You buy this, I make cheese.” Tlte 
press was bought and Mr. Helton did make cheese, and 
it was sold, along with the increased butter and the 
crates of eggs. Sometimes Mr. Thompson felt a little 
contemptuous of Mr. Helton’s ways. It did seem kind 
of picayune for a man to go around picking up half a 
dozen ears of corn that had fallen off the wagon on the 
way from the field, gathering up fallen fruit to feed to 
the pigs, storing up old nails and stray parts of ma- 
chinery, spending good time stamping a fancy pattern 
on the butter before it went to market. Mr. Thompson, 
sitting up high on the spring-wagon seat, with the deco- 
rated butter in a five-gallon lard can wrapped in wet 
towsack, driving to town, chirruping to the horses and 
snapping the reins over their backs, sometimes thought 
1 16 

'Noon Wine 

that Mr. Helton was a pretty meeching sort of fellow; 
but he never gave way to these feelings, he knew a good 
thing when he had it. It was a fact the hogs were in bet- 
ter shape and sold for more money. It was a fact that 
Mr. Thompson stopped buying feed, Mr. Helton man- 
aged the crops so well. When beef- and hog-slaughter- 
ing time came, Mr. Helton knew how to save the scraps 
that Mr. Thompson had thrown away, and wasn’t above 
scraping guts and filling them with sausages that he made 
by his own methods. In all, Mr. Thompson had no 
grounds for complaint. In the third year, he raised Mr. 
Helton’s wages, though Mr. Helton had not asked for a 
raise. The fourth year, when Mr. Thompson was not 
only out of debt but had a little cash in the bank, he 
raised Mr. Helton’s wages again, two dollars and a half 
a month each time. 

“The man’s worth it, Ellic,” said Mr. Thompson, in a 
glow of self-justification for his extravagance, “He’s 
made this place pay, and I want him to know I appre- 
ciate it.” 

Mr. Helton’s silence, the pallor of his eyebrows and 
hair, his long, glum jaw and eyes that refused to see any- 
thing, even the work under his hands, had grown per- 
fectly familiar to the Thompsons. At first, Mrs. Thomp- 
son complained a little. “It’s like sitting down at the table 


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with a disembodied spirit,” she said. “You’d think he’d 
find something to say, sooner or later.” 

“Let him alone,” said Mr. Thompson. “When he gets 
ready to talk, he’ll talk.” 

The years passed, and Mr. Helton never got ready to 
talk. After his work was finished for the day, he would 
come up from the barn or the milk house or the chicken 
house, swinging his lantern, his big shoes clumping like 
pony hoofs on the hard path. They, sitting in the 
kitchen in the winter, or on the back porch in summer, 
would hear him drag out his wooden chair, hear the 
creak of it tilted back, and then for a little while he 
would play his single tune on one or another of his har- 
monicas. The harmonicas were in different keys, some 
lower and sweeter than the others, but the same change- 
less tune went on, a strange tune, with sudden turns in 
it, night after night, and sometimes even in the after- 
noons when Mr. Helton sat down to catch his breath. 
At first the Thompsons liked it very much, and always 
stopped to listen. Later there came a time when they 
were fairly sick of it, and began to wish to each other 
that he would learn a new one. At last they did not hear 
it any more, it was as natural as the sound of the wind 
rising in the evenings, or the cows lowing, or their own 

Mrs. Thompson pondered now and then over Mr. 


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Helton’s soul. He didn’t seem to be a church-goer, and 
worked straight through Sunday as if it were any com- 
mon day of the week. “I think we ought to invite him 
to go to hear Dr. Martin,” she told Mr. Thompson. “It 
isn’t very Christian of us not to ask him. He’s not a for- 
ward kind of man. He’d wait to be asked.” 

“Let him alone,” said Mr. Thompson. “The way I 
look at it, his religion is every man’s own business. Be- 
sides, he ain’t got any Sunday clothes. He wouldn’t want 
to go to church in them jeans and jumpers of his. I don’t 
know what he does with his money. He certainly don’t 
spend it foolishly.” 

Still, once the notion got into her head, Mrs. Thomp- 
son could not rest until she invited Mr. Helton to gc 
to church with the family next Sunday. He was pitching 
hay into neat little piles in the field back of the orchard. 
.Mrs. Thompson put on smoked glasses and a sunbonnet 
and walked all the way down there to speak to him. He 
stopped and leaned on his pitchfork, listening, and for a 
moment Mrs. Thompson was almost frightened at his 
face. The pale eyes seemed to glare past her, the eye- 
brows frowned, the long jaw hardened. “I got work,” 
he said bluntly, and lifting his pitchfork he turned from 
her and began to toss the hay. Mrs. Thompson, her feel- 
ings hurt, walked back thinking that by now she should 
be used to Mr. Helton’s ways, but it did seem like a man. 

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even a foreigner, could be just a little polite when you 
gave him a Christian invitation. “He’s not polite, that’s 
the only thing I’ve got against him,” she said to Mr. 
Thompson. “He just can’t seem to behave like other 
people. You’d think he had a grudge against the world,” 
she said. “I sometimes don’t know what to make of it.” 

In the second year something had happened that made 
Mrs. Thompson uneasy, the kind of thing she could not 
put into words, hardly into thoughts, and if she had tried 
to explain to Mr. Thompson it would have sounded 
worse than it was, or not bad enough. It was that kind 
of queer thing that seems to be giving a warning, and 
yet, nearly always nothing comes of it. It was on a hot, 
still spring day, and Mrs. Thompson had been down to 
the garden patch to pull some new carrots and green 
onions and string beans for dinner. As she worked, sun- 
bonnet low over her eyes, putting each kind of vegetable 
in a pile by itself in her basket, she noticed how neatly 
Mr. Helton weeded, and how rich the soil was. He had 
spread it all over with manure from the barns, and 
worked it in, in the fall, and the vegetables were coming 
up fine and full. She walked back under the nubbly little 
fig trees where the unpruned branches leaned almost to 
the ground, and the thick leaves made a cool screen. 
Mrs. Thompson was always looking for shade to save 
her eyes. So she, looking idly about, saw through the 


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screen a sight that struck her as very strange. If it had 
been a noisy spectacle, it would have been quite natural. 
It was the silence that struck her. Mr. Helton was shak- 
ing Arthur by the shoulders, ferociously, his face most 
terribly fixed and pale. Arthur’s head snapped back and 
forth and he had not stiffened in resistance, as he did 
when Mrs. Thompson tried to shake him. His eyes were 
rather frightened, but surprised, too, probably more sur- 
prised than anything else. Herbert stood by meekly, 
watching. Mr. Helton dropped Arthur, and seized Her- 
bert, and shook him with the same methodical ferocity, 
the same face of hatred. Herbert’s mouth crumpled as if 
he would cry, but he made no sound. Mr. Helton let him 
go, turned and strode into the shack, and the little boys 
ran, as if for their lives, without a word. They disap- 
peared around the corner to the front of the house. 

Mrs. Thompson took time to set her basket on the 
kitchen table, to push her sunbonnet back on her head 
and draw it forward again, to look in the stove and make 
certain the fire was going, before she followed the boys. 
They were sitting huddled together under a clump of 
chinaberry trees in plain sight of her bedroom window, 
as if it were a safe place they had discovered. 

“What are you doing?” asked Mrs. Thompson. 

They looked hang-dog from under their foreheads 
and Arthur mumbled, “Nothin’.” 


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“Nothing now, you mean,” said Mrs. Thompson, se- 
verely. “Well, I have plenty for you to do. Come right 
in here this minute and help me fix vegetables. This 

They scrambled up very eagerly and followed her 
close. Mrs. Thompson tried to imagine what they had 
been up to; she did not like the notion of Mr. Helton 
taking it on himself to correct her little boys, but she 
was afraid to ask them for reasons. They might tell her 
a lie, and she would have to overtake them in it, and 
whip them. Or she would have to pretend to believe 
them, and they would get in the habit of lying. Or they 
might tell her the truth, and it would be something sne 
would have to whip them for. The very thought of it 
gave her a headache. She supposed she might ask Mr. 
Helton, but it was not her place to ask. She would wait 
and tell Mr. Thompson, and let him get at the bottom of 
it. While her mind ran on, she kept the little boys hop- 
ping. “Cut those carrot tops closer, Herbert, you’re just 
being careless. Arthur, stop breaking up the beans so 
little. They’re little enough already. Herbert, you go 
get an armload of wood. Arthur, you take these onions 
and wash them under the pump. Herbert, as soon as 
you’re done here, you get a broom and sweep out this 
kitchen. Arthur, you get a shovel and take up the ashes. 
Stop picking your nose, Herbert. How often must I tell 


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you? Arthur, you go look in the top drawer of my bu- 
reau, left-hand side, and bring me the vaseline for Her- 
bert’s nose. Herbert, come here to me. . . .” 

They galloped through their chores, their animal 
spirits rose with activity, and shortly they were out in 
the front yard again, engaged in a wrestling match. 
They sprawled and fought, scrambled, clutched, rose 
and fell shouting, as aimlessly, noisily, monotonously as 
two puppies. They imitated various animals, not a hu- 
man sound from them, and their dirty faces were 
streaked with sweat. Airs. Thompson, sitting at her win- 
dow, watched them with baffled pride and tenderness, 
they were so sturdy and healthy and growing so fast; 
but uneasily, too, with her pained little smile and the 
tears rolling from her eyelids that clinched themselves 
against the sunlight. They were so idle and careless, as if 
they had no future in this world, and no immortal souli 
to save, and oh, what had they been up to that Mr. Hel- 
ton had shaken them, with his face positively dangerous? 

In the evening before supper, without a word to Mr 
Thompson of the curious fear the sight had caused het 
she told him that Mr. Helton had shaken the little boys 
for some reason. He stepped out to the shack and spoke 
to Mr. Helton. In five minutes he was back, glaring at 
his young. “He says them brats been fooling with his 


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harmonicas, Ellie, blowing in them and getting them all 
dirty and full of spit and they don’t play good,” 

“Did he say all that?” asked Mrs, Thompson. “It 
doesn’t seem possible.” 

“Well, that’s what he meant, anyhow,” said Mr. 
Thompson. “He didn’t say it just that way. But he acted 
pretty worked up about it.” 

“That’s a shame,” said Mrs. Thompson, “a perfect 
shame. Now we’ve got to do something so they’ll re- 
member they mustn’t go into Mr, Helton’s things.” 

“I’ll tan their hides for them,” said Mr. Thompson. 
“I’ll take a calf rope to them if they don’t look out,” 

“Maybe you’d better leave the whipping to me,” said 
Mrs. Thompson. “You haven’t got a light enough hand 
for children.” 

“That’s just what’s the matter with them now,” 
shouted Mr. Thompson, “rotten spoiled and they’ll wind 
up in the penitentiary. You don’t half whip ’em. Just 
little love taps. My pa used to knock me down with a 
stick of stove wood or anything else that came handy.” 

“Well, that’s not saying it’s right,” said Mrs. Thomp- 
son. “I don’t hold with that way of raising children. It 
makes them run away from home. I’ve seen too much 
of it.” 

“I’ll break every bone in ’em,” said Mr, Thompson, 


'Noon Wine 

simmering down, “if they don’t mind you better and 
stop being so bull-headed,” 

“Leave the table and wash your face and hands,” Mrs. 
Thompson commanded the boys, suddenly. They slunk 
out and dabbled at the pump and slunk in again, trying 
to make themselves small. They had learned long ago 
that their mother always made them wash when there 
was trouble ahead. They looked at their plates. Mr. 
Thompson opened up on them. 

“Well, now, what you got to say for yourselves about 
going into Mr. Helton’s shack and ruining his har- 

The two little boys wilted, their faces drooped into 
the grieved hopeless lines of children’s faces when they 
are brought to the terrible bar of blind adult justice; 
their eyes telegraphed each other in panic, “Now we’re 
really going to catch a licking”; in despair, they dropped 
their buttered cornbread on their plates, their hands 
lagged on the edge of the table. 

“I ought to break your ribs,” said Mr. Thompson, 
“and I’m a good mind to do it.” 

“Yes, sir,” whispered Arthur, faintly. 

“Yes, sir,” said Herbert, his lip trembling. 

“Now, papa,” said Mrs. Thompson in a warning tone. 
The children did not glance at her. They had no faith 
in her good will. She had betrayed them in the first 


Noon Wine 

place. There was no trusting her. Now she might save 
them and s!ie might not. No use depending on her. 

“Well, you ought to get a good thrashing. You de- 
serve it, don’t you, Arthur?” 

Arthur hung his head. “Yes, sir.” 

“And the next time I catch cither of you hanging 
around Mr. Helton’s shack. I’m going to take the hide 
off both of you, you hear me, Herbert?” 

Herbert mumbled and choked, scattering his corn- 
bread. “Yes, sir.” 

“Well, now sit up and eat your supper and not an- 
other word out of you,” said Mr. Thompson, beginning 
on his own food. The little boys perked up somewhat 
.md started chewing, but every time they looked around 
they met their parents’ eyes, regarding them steadily. 
There was no telling when they would think of some- 
thing new. The boys ate warily, trying not to be seen or 
heard, the cornbread sticking, the buttermilk gurgling, 
as it went down their gullets. 

“And somctliing else, Mr. Thompson,” said Mrs. 
Thompson after a pause. “Tell Mr. Helton he’s to come 
straight to us when they bother him, and not to trouble 
shaking them himself. Tell him we’ll look after that.” 

“They’re so mean,” answered Mr. Thompson, staring 
at them. “It’s a wonder he don’t just kill ’em off and be 
done with it.” But there was something in the tone that 


Noon Wine 

told Arthur and Herbert that nothing more worth wor- 
rying about was going to happen this time. Heaving 
deep sighs, they sat up, reaching for the food nearest 

“Listen,” said Mrs. Thompson, suddenly. The little 
boys stopped eating. “Mr. Helton hasn’t come for his 
supper. Arthur, go and tell Mr. Helton he’s late for sup- 
per. Tell him nice, now.” 

Arthur, miserably depressed, slid out of his place and 
made for the door, without a word. 

There were no miracles of fortune to be brought to pass 
on a small dairy farm. The Thompsons did not grow 
rich, but they kept out of the poor house, as Mr. 
Thompson was fond of saying, meaning he had got a 
little foothold in spite of Elbe’s poor health, and unex- 
pected weather, and strange declines in market prices, 
and his own mysterious handicaps which weighed him 
down. Mr. Helton was the hope and the prop of the 
family, and all the Thompsons became fond of him, or 
at any rate they ceased to regard him as in any way pe- 
culiar, and looked upon him, from a distance they did 
not know how to bridge, as a good man and a good 
friend. Mr. Helton went his way, worked, played his 
tune. Nine years passed. The boys grew up and learned 


Noon Wine 

to work. They could not remember the time when Ole 
Helton hadn’t been there: a grouchy cuss, Brother 
Bones; Mr. Helton, the dairymaid; that Big Swede. If 
he had heard them, he might have been annoyed at some 
of the names they called him. But he did not hear them, 
and besides they meant no harm— or at least such harm 
as existed was all there, in the names; the boys referred 
to their father as the Old Alan, or the Old Geezer, but 
not to his face. They lived through by main strength all 
the grimy, secret, oblique phases of growing up and got 
past the crisis safely if anyone does. Their parents could 
see they were good solid boys with hearts of gold in 
spite of their rough ways. Mr. Thompson was relieved 
to find that, without knowing how he had done it, he 
had succeeded in raising a set of boys who were not 
trifling whittlers. They were such good boys Mr. 
Thompson began to believe they were bom that way, 
and that he had never spoken a harsh word to them in 
their lives, much less thrashed them. Herbert and Arthur 
never disputed his word. 

Mr. Helton, his hair wet with sweat, plastered to his 
dripping forehead, his jumper streaked dark and light 
blue and clinging to his ribs, was chopping a little fire- 
wood. He chopped slowly, struck the ax into the end of 


Noon Wine 

the chopping log, and piled the wood up neatly. He 
then disappeared round the house into his shack, which 
shared with the wood pile a good shade from a row of 
mulberry trees. Mr. Thompson was lolling in a swing 
chair on the front porch, a place he had never liked 
The chair was new, and Mrs. Thompson had wanted it 
on the front porch, though the side porch was the place 
for it, being cooler; and Mr. Thompson wanted to sit in 
the chair, so there he was. As soon as the new wore off 
of it, and Elbe’s pride in it was exhausted, he would 
move it round to the side porch. Meantime the August 
heat was almost unbearable, the air so thick you could 
poke a hole in it. The dust was inches thick on every- 
thing, though Mr. Helton sprinkled the whole yard reg- 
ularly every night. He even shot the hose upward and 
washed the tree tops and the roof of the house. They 
had laid waterpipes to the kitchen and an outside faucet. 
Mr. Thompson must have dozed, for he opened his eyes 
and shut his mouth just in time to save his face before 
a stranger who had driven up to the front gate. Mr. 
Thompson stood up, put on his hat, pulled up his jeans, 
and watched while the stranger tied his team, attached 
to a light spring wagon, to the hitching post. Mr. 
Thompson recognized the team and wagon. They were 
from a livery stable in Buda. While the stranger was 
opening the gate, a strong gate that Mr. Helton had built 


Noon Wine 

and set firmly on its hinges several years back, Mr. 
Thompson strolled down the path to greet him and find 
out what in God’s world a man’s business might be that 
would bring lum out at this time of day, in all this dust 
and welter. 

lie wasn’t exactly a fat man. I Ic was more like a man 
who had been fat recently. His skin was baggy and his 
clothes were too big for him, and he somehow looked 
like a man who should be fat, ordinarily, but who might 
aave just got over a spell of sickness. Mr. Thompson 
didn’t take to his looks at all, he couldn’t say why. 

The stranger took off his hat. He said in a loud hearty 
voice, “Is this Mr. Thompson, Mr. Royal Earle Thomp- 

“That’s my name,” said Mr. 7'hompson, almost 
quietly, he was so taken aback by the free manner of the 

“My name is Hatch,’’ said the stranger, “Mr. Homer 
T. Hatch, and I’ve come to see you about buying a 

“I reckon you’ve been misdirected,” said Mr. Thomp- 
son. “I haven’t got a horse for sale. Usually if I’ve got 
anything like that to sell,” he said, “I tell the neighbors 
and tack up a little sign on the gate.” 

The fat man opened his mouth and roared with joy, 
showing rabbit teeth brown as shoeleather. Mr. Thomp- 


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son saw nothing to laugh at, for once. The stranger 
shouted, “That’s just an old joke of mine.” He caught 
one of his hands in the other and shook hands with him- 
self heartily. “I always say something like that when I’m 
calling on a stranger, because I’ve noticed that when a 
feller says he’s come to buy something nobody takes him 
for a suspicious character. You see? Haw, haw, haw.” 

His joviality made Mr. Thompson nervous, because 
the expression in the man’s eyes didn’t match the sounds 
he was making. “Haw, haw,” laughed Mr. Thompson 
obligingly, still not seeing the joke. “Well, that’s all 
wasted on me because I never take any man for a suspi- 
cious character ’til he shows hisself to be one. Says or 
does something,” he explained. “Until that happens, one 
man’s as good as another, so far’s Vvi concerned.” 

“Well,” said the stranger, suddenly very sober and 
sensible, “1 ain’t come neither to buy nor sell. Fact is, 
I want to see you about something that’s of interest to 
us both. Yes, sir, I’d like to have a little talk with you, 
and it won’t cost you a cent.” 

“I guess that’s fair enough,” said Mr. Thompson, re- 
luctantly. “Come on around the house where there’s a 
little shade.” 

They went round and seated themselves on two 
stumps under a chinaberry tree. 

“Yes, sir, Homer T. Hatch is my name and America 

Noon Wine 

is my nation,” said the stranger. “I reckon you must 
know the name? I used to have a cousin named Jameson 
Hatch lived up the country a ways.” 

“Don’t think I know the name,” said Mr. Thompson. 
“There’s some Hatchers settled somewhere around 
Mountain City.” 

“Don’t know the old Hatch family,” cried the man in 
deep concern. He seemed to be pitying Mr. Thomp- 
son’s ignorance. “Why, we came over from Georgia 
fifty years ago. Been here long yourself?” 

“Just all my whole life,” said Mr. Thompson, begin- 
ning to feel peevish. “And my pa and my grampap be- 
fore me. Yes, sir, we’ve been right here all along. Any- 
body wants to find a Thompson knows where to look 
for him. My grampap immigrated in 1836.” 

“From Ireland, I reckon?” said the stranger. 

“From Pennsylvania,” said Mr. Thompson. “Now 
what makes you think we came from Ireland?” 

The stranger opened his mouth and began to shout 
with merriment, and he shook hands with himself as if 
he hadn’t met himself for a long time. “Well, what I al- 
ways says is, a feller’s got to come from somewhere, 
ain’t he?” 

While they were talking, Mr. Thompson kept glanc- 
ing at the face near him. He certainly did remind Mr. 
Thompson of somebody, or maybe he really had seen 

Noon Wine 

the man himself somewhere. He couldn’t just place the 
features. Mr. Thompson finally decided it was just that 
all rabbit-teethed men looked alike. 

“That’s right,” acknowledged Mr. Thompson, rather 
sourly, “but what I always say is, Thompsons have been 
settled here for so long it don’t make much difference 
any more where they come from. Now a course, this is 
the slack season, and we’re all just laying round a little, 
but nevertheless we’ve all got our chores to do, and I 
don’t want to hurry you, and so if you’ve come to see 
me on business maybe we’d better get down to it.” 

“As I said, it’s not in a way, and again in a way it is,” 
said the fat man. “Now I’m looking for a man named 
Helton, Mr. Olaf Eric Helton, from North Dakota, and 
I was told up around the country a ways that I might 
find him here, and I wouldn’t mind having a little talk 
with him. No, siree, I sure wouldn’t mind, if it’s all the 
same to you.” 

“I never knew his middle name,” said Mr. Thompson, 
“but Mr. Helton is right here, and been here now for 
going on nine years. He’s a mighty steady man, and you 
can tell anybody I said so.” 

“I’m glad to hear that,” said Mr. Homer T. Hatch. “I 
like to hear of a feller mending his ways and settling 
down. Now when I knew Mr. Helton he was pretty 
wild, yes, sir, wild is what he was, he didn’t know his 


Noon Wine 

own mind atall. Well, now, it’s going to be a great 
pleasure to me to meet up with an old friend and find 
him all settled down and doing well by hisself.” 

“We’ve all got to be young once,” said Mr. Thomp- 
son. “It’s like the measles, it breaks out all over you, and 
you’re a nuisance to yourself and everybody else, but it 
don’t last, and it usually don’t leave no ill effects.” He 
was so pleased with this notion he forgot and broke into 
a guffaw. The stranger folded his arms over his stomach 
and went into a kind of fit, roaring until he had tears in 
his eyes. Mr. Thompson stopped shouting and eyed the 
stranger uneasily. Now he liked a good laugh as well as 
any man, but there ought to be a little moderation. Now 
this feller laughed like a perfect lunatic, that was a fact. 
And he wasn’t laughing because he really thought things 
were funny, either. He was laughing for reasons of his 
own. jMr. Thompson fell into a moody silence, and 
waited until Mr. Hatch settled down a little. 

Mr. Hatch got out a very dirty blue cotton bandanna 
;md wiped his eyes. “That joke just about caught me 
where I live,” he said, almost apologetically. “Now I 
wish I could think up things as funny as tliat to say. It’s 
:i gift. It’s . . .” 

“If you want to speak to Mr. Helton, I’ll go and 
round him up,” said Mr. Thompson, making motions as 
if he might get up. “He may be in the milk house and 


Noon Wine 

he may be setting in his shack this time of day.” It was 
drawing towards five o’clock. “It’s right around the cor- 
ner,” he said. 

“Oh, well, there ain’t no special hurry,” said Mr. 
Hatch. “I’ve been wanting to speak to him for a good long 
spell now and I guess a few minutes more won’t make 
no difference. I just more wanted to locate him, like. 
That’s all.” 

Mr. Thompson stopped beginning to stand up, and 
unbuttoned one more button of liis shirt, and said, 
“Well, he’s here, and he’s this kind of man, that if he 
had any business with you he’d like to get it over. He 
don’t dawdle, that’s one thing you can say for him.” 

Mr. Hatch appeared to sulk a little at these words. He 
wiped his face with the bandanna and opened his mouth 
to speak, when round the house there came the music 
of Air. Helton’s harmonica. Mr. Thompson raised a fin- 
ger. “There he is,” said Mr. Thompson. “Now’s your 

Mr. Hatch cocked an ear towards the east side of the 
house and listened for a few seconds, a very strange ex- 
pression on his face. 

“I know that tune like I know the palm of my own 
hand,” said Mr. Thompson, “but I never heard Mr. Hel- 
ton say what it was.” 

“That’s a kind of Scandahoovian song,” said Mr 


Noon Wine 

Hatch. “Where I come from they sing it a lot. In North 
Dakota, they sing it. It says something about starting 
out in the morning feeling so good you can’t hardly 
stand it, so you drink up all your likker before noon. 
All the likker, y’ understand, that you was saving for the 
noon lay-off. The words ain’t much, but it’s a pretty 
tune. It’s a kind of drinking song.” He sat there droop- 
ing a little, and Mr. Thompson didn’t like his expres- 
sion. It was a satisfied expression, but it was more like 
the cat that et the canary. 

“So far as I know,” said Mr. Thompson, “he ain’t 
touched a drop since he’s been on the place, and that’s 
nine years this coming September. Yes, sir, nine years, 
so far as I know, he ain’t wetted his whistle once. And 
that’s more than I can say for myself,” he said, meekly 

“Yes, that’s a drinking song,” said Mr. Hatch. “I used 
to play ‘Little Brown Jug’ on the fiddle when I was 
younger than I am now,” he went on, “but this Helton, 
he just keeps it up. He just sits and plays it by himself.” 

“He’s been playing it off and on for nine years right 
here on the place,” said Mr. Thompson, feeling a little 

“And he was certainly singing it as well, fifteen years 
before that, in North Dakota,” said Mr. Hatch. “He 

Noon Wine 

used to sit up in a straitjacket, practically, when he was 
in the asylum—” 

“What’s that you say?” said Mr, Thompson. “What’s 

“Shucks, I didn’t mean to tell you,” said Mr. Hatch, 
a faint leer of regret in his drooping eyelids. “Shucks, 
that just slipped out. Funny, now I’d made up my mind 
I wouldn’ say a word, because it would just make a lot 
of excitement, and what I say is, if a man has lived harm^ 
less and quiet for nine years it don’t matter if he is loony, 
does it? So long’s he keeps quiet and don’t do nobody 

“You mean they had him in a straitjacket?” asked Mr. 
Thompson, uneasily. “In a lunatic asylum?” 

“They sure did,” said Mr. Hatch. “That’s right where 
they had him, from time to time.” 

“They put my Aunt Ida in one of them things in the 
State asylum,” said Mr. Thompson. “She got vi’lent, and 
they put her in one of these jackets with long sleeves 
and tied her to an iron ring in the wall, and Aunt Ida 
got so wild she broke a blood vessel and when they went 
to look after her she was dead. I’d think one of them 
things was dangerous.” 

“Mr. Helton used to sing his drinking song when he 
was in a straitjacket,” said Mr. Hatch. “Nothing evei 
bothered him, except if you tried to make him talk. That 


Noon Wine 

bothered him, and he’d get vi’lent, like your Aunt Ida. 
He’d get vi’lent and then they’d put him in the jacket and 
go off and leave him, and he’d lay there perfickly con- 
tented, so far’s you could see, singing his song. Then one 
night he just disappeared. Left, you might say, just went, 
and nobody ever saw hide or hair of him again. And then 
I come along and find him here,” said Mr. Hatch, “all 
settled down and playing the same song.” 

“He never acted crazy to me,” said Mr. Thompson. 
“He always acted like a sensible man, to me. He never 
got married, for one thing, and he works like a horse, 
and I bet he’s got the first cent I paid him when he 
landed here, and he don’t drink, and he never says a 
word, much less swear, and he don’t waste time runnin’ 
around Saturday nights, and if he’s crazy,” said Mr. 
Thompson, “why, I think I’ll go crazy myself for a 

“Haw, ha,” said Mr. Hatch, “heh, he, that’s good! 
Ha, ha, ha, I hadn’t thought of it jes like that. Yeah, 
that’s right! Let’s all go crazy and get rid of our wives 
and save our money, hey?” He smiled unpleasantly, 
showing his little rabbit teeth. 

Mr. Thompson felt he was being misunderstood. He 
turned around and motioned toward the open window 
back of the honeysuckle trellis. “Let’s move off down 
here a little,” he said. “I oughta thought of that before.” 


Noon Wine 

His visitor bothered Mr. Thompson. He had a way of 
taking the words out of Mr. Thompson’s mouth, turn- 
ing them around and mixing them up until Mr. Thomp- 
son didn’t know himself what he had said. “My wife’s 
not very strong,” said Air. Thompson. “She’s been kind 
of invalid now goin’ on fourteen years. It’s mighty 
tough on a poor man, havin’ sickness in the family. She 
had four operations,” he said proudly, “one right after 
the other, but they didn’t do any good. For five years 
handrunnin’, I just turned every nickel I made over to 
the doctors. Upshot is, she’s a mighty delicate woman.” 

“My old woman,” said Mr. Homer T. Hatch, “had a 
back like a mule, yes, sir. That woman could have moved 
the barn witli her bare hands if she’d ever took the no- 
tion. I used to say, it was a good thing she didn’t know 
her own stren’th. She’s dead now, though. That kind 
wear out quicker than the puny ones. I never had much 
use for a woman always complainin’. I’d get rid of her 
mighty quick, yes, sir, mighty quick. It’s just as you say: 
a dead loss, keepin’ one of ’em up.” 

Tliis was not at all what Mr. Thompson had heard 
himself say; he had been trying to explain that a wife as 
expensive as his was a credit to a man. “She’s a mighty 
reasonable woman,” said Mr. Thompson, feeling baffled, 
“but I wouldn’t answer for what she’d say or do if she 
found out we’d had a lunatic on the place all this time.” 


Noon Wine 

They had moved away from the window; Mr. Thomp- 
son took Mr. Hatch the front way, because if he went 
the back way they would have to pass Mr. Helton’s 
shack. For some reason he didn’t want the stranger to see 
or talk to Mr. Helton. It was strange, but that was the 
way Mr. Thompson felt. 

Mr. Thompson sat down again, on the chopping log, 
offering his guest another tree stump. “Now, I mighta 
got upset myself at such a thing, once,” said Mr. Thomp- 
son, “but now I deejy anything to get me lathered up.” 
He cut himself an enormous plug of tobacco with his 
horn-handled pocketknife, and offered it to Mr. Hatch, 
who then produced his own plug and, opening a huge 
bowie knife with a long blade sharply whetted, cut off a 
large wad and put it in his mouth. They then compared 
plugs and both of them were astonished to see how dif- 
ferent men’s ideas of good chewing tobacco were. 

“Now, for instance,” said Mr. Hatch, “mine is lighter 
colored. That’s because, for one thing, there ain’t any 
sweetenin’ in this plug. I like it dry, natural leaf, medium 

“A little sweetenin’ don’t do no harm so far as I’m 
concerned,” said Mr. Thompson, “but it’s got to be 
mighty little. But with me, now, I want a strong leaf, I 
want it heavy-cured, as the feller says. There’s a man 
near here, named Williams, Mr. John Morgan Williams, 


Noon Wine 

who chews a plug— well, sir, it’s black as your hat and 
soft as melted tar. It fairly drips with molasses, jus’ plain 
molasses, and it chews like licorice. Now, I don’t call 
that a good chew.” 

“One man’s meat,” said Mr. Hatch, “is another man’s 
poison. Now, such a chew would simply gag me. I 
couldn’t begin to put it in my mouth.” 

“Well,” said Mr. Thompson, a tinge of apology in 
his voice, “I jus’ barely tasted it myself, you might say. 
Just took a little piece in my mouth and spit it out 

“I’m dead sure I couldn’t even get that far,” said Mr. 
Hatch. “I like a dry natural chew without any artificial 
flavorin’ of any kind.” 

Mr. Thompson began to feel that Mr. Hatch was try- 
ing to make out he had the best judgment in tobacco, 
and was going to keep up the argument until he proved 
it. He began to feel seriously annoyed with the fat man. 
After all, who was he and where did he come from? 
Who was he to go around telling other people what 
kind of tobacco to chew? 

“Artificial flavorin’,” Mr. Hatch went on, doggedly, 
“is jes put in to cover up a cheap leaf and make a man 
think he’s gettin’ somethin’ more than he is gettin’. Even 
a little sweetenin’ is a sign of a cheap leaf, you can mark 
my words.” 

Noon Wine 

“I’ve always paid a fair price for my plug,” said Mr. 
Thompson, stiffly. “I’m not a rich man and I don’t go 
round settin’ myself up for one, but I’ll say this, when it 
comes to such things as tobacco, I buy the best on the 

“Sweetenin’, even a little,” began Mr. Hatch, shifting 
his plug and squirting tobacco juice at a dry-looking 
little rose bush that was having a hard enough time as it 
was, standing all day in the blazing sun, its roots clenched 
in the baked earth, “is the sign of—” 

“About this Mr. Helton, now,” said Mr. Thompson, 
determinedly, “I don’t see no reason to hold it against a 
man because he went loony once or twice in his lifetime 
and so I don’t expect to take no steps about it. Not a 
step. I’ve got nothin’ against the man, he’s always treated 
me fair. They’s things and people,” he went on, “ ’nough 
to drive any man loony. The wonder to me is, more men 
don’t wind up in straitjackets, the way things are going 
these days and times.” 

“That’s right,” said Mr. Hatch, promptly, entirely too 
promptly, as if he were turning Mr. Thompson’s mean- 
ing back on him. “You took the words right out of my 
mouth. There ain’t every man in a straitjacket that ought 
to be there. Ha, ha, you’re right all right. You got the 

Mr. Thompson sat silent and chewed steadily and 


Noon Wine 

stared at a spot on the ground about six feet away and 
felt a slow muffled resentment climbing from somewhere 
deep down in him, climbing and spreading all through 
him. What was this fellow driving at? What was he try- 
ing to say? It wasn’t so much his words, but his looks 
and his way of talking: that droopy look in the eye, that 
tone of voice, as if he was trying to mortify Mr. Thomp- 
son about something. Mr. Thompson didn’t like it, but 
he couldn’t get hold of it either. He wanted to turn 
around and shove the fellow off the stump, but it 
wouldn’t look reasonable. Suppose something happened 
to the fellow when he fell off the stump, just for in- 
stance, if he fell on the ax and cut himself, and then 
someone should ask Mr. Thompson why he shoved him, 
and what could a man say? It would look mighty funny, 
it would sound mighty strange to say. Well, him and 
me fell out over a plug of tobacco. He might just shove 
him anyhow and then tell people he was a fat man not 
used to the heat and while he was talking he got dizzy 
and fell off by himself, or something like that, and it 
wouldn’t be the truth either, because it wasn’t the heat 
and it wasn’t the tobacco. Mr. Thompson made up his 
mind to get the fellow off the place pretty quick, with- 
out seeming to be anxious, and watch him sharp till he 
was out of sight. It doesn’t pay to be friendly with 
strangers from another part of the country. They’re 


Noon Wine 

always up to something, or they’d stay at home where 
they belong. 

“And they’s some people,” said Mr. Hatch, “would 
jus’ as soon have a loonatic around their house as not, 
they can’t see no difference between them and anybody 
else. I always say, if that’s the way a man feels, don’t 
care who he associates with, why, why, that’s his busi- 
ness, not mine. I don’t wanta have a thing to do with 
it. Now back home in North Dakota, we don’t feel 
that way. I’d like to a seen anybody hiring a loonatic 
there, aspecially after what he done.” 

“I didn’t understand your home was North Dakota,” 
said Mr. Thompson. “I thought you said Georgia.” 

“I’ve got a married sister in North Dakota,” said Mr. 
Hatch, “married a Swede, but a white man if ever I saw 
one. So I say we because we got into a little business 
together out that way. And it seems like home, kind of.” 

“What did he do?” asked Mr. Thompson, feeling 
very uneasy again. 

“Oh, nothin’ to speak of,” said Mr. Hatch, jovially, 
“jus’ went loony one day in the hayfield and shoved a 
pitchfork right square through his brother, when they 
was makin’ hay. They was goin’ to execute him, but 
they found out he had went crazy with the heat, as the 
feller says, and so they put him in the asylum. That’s 
all he done. Nothin’ to get lathered up about, ha, ha, 

Noon Wine 

ha!” he said, and taking out his sharp knife he began to 
slice off a chew as carefully as if he were cutting cake. 

“Well,” said Mr, Thompson, “I don’t deny that’s 
news. Yes, sir, news. But I still say somethin’ must have 
drove him to it. Some men make you feel like giving ’em 
a good killing just by lookin’ at you. His brother may 
a been a mean ornery cuss.” 

“Brother was going to get married,” said Mr. Hatch; 
“used to go courtin’ his girl nights. Borrowed Mr. Hel- 
ton’s harmonica to give her a serenade one evenin’, and 
lost it. Brand new harmonica.” 

“He thinks a heap of his harmonicas,” said Mr. 
Thompson. “Only money he ever spends, now and then 
he buys hisself a new one. Must have a dozen in that 
shack, all kinds and sizes.” 

“Brother wouldn’t buy him a new one,” said Mr. 
Hatch, “so Mr. Helton just ups, as I says, and runs his 
pitchfork through his brother. Now you know he musta 
been crazy to get all worked up over a little thing like 

“Sounds like it,” said Mr. Thompson, reluctant to 
agree in anything with this intrusive and disagreeable 
fellow. He kept thinking he couldn’t remember when 
he had taken such a dislike to a man on first sight. 

“Seems to me you’d get pretty sick of bearin’ the 
same tune year in, year out,” said Mr. Hatch. 


Noon Wine 

“Well, sometimes I think it wouldn’t do no harm if 
he learned a new one,” said Mr. Thompson, “but he 
don’t, so there’s nothin’ to be done about it. It’s a pretty 
good tune, though.” 

“One of the Scandahoovians told me what it meant, 
that’s how I come to know,” said Mr. Hatch. “Espe- 
cially that part about getting so gay you jus’ go ahead 
and drink up all the likker you got on hand before 
noon. It seems like up in them Swede countries a man 
carries a bottle of wine around with him as a matter 
of course, at least that’s the way I understood it. Those 
fellers will tell you anything, though—” He broke off 
and spat. 

The idea of drinking any kind of liquor in this heat 
made Mr. Thompson dizzy. The idea of anybody feel- 
ing good on a day like this, for instance, made him 
tired. He felt he was really suffering from the heat. The 
fat man looked as if he had grown to the stump; he 
slumped there in his damp, dark clothes too big for 
him, his belly slack in liis pants, his wide black felt hat 
pushed off his narrow forehead red with prickly heat. 
A bottle of good cold beer, now, would be a help, 
thought Mr. Thompson, remembering the four bottles 
sitting deep in the pool at the springhouse, and his dry 
tongue squirmed in his mouth. He wasn’t going to offer 
this man anything, though, not even a drop of water. 


Noon Wine 

He wasn’t even going to chew any more tobacco with 
him. He shot out his quid suddenly, and wiped his mouth 
on the back of his hand, and studied the head near him 
attentively. The man was no good, and he was there 
for no good, but what was he up to? Mr. Thompson 
made up his mind he’d give him a little more time to get 
his business, whatever it was, with Mr. Helton over, 
and then if he didn’t get off the place he’d kick him 

iMr. Hatch, as if he suspected Mr. Thompson’s 
thoughts, turned his eyes, wicked and pig-like, on Mr. 
Thompson. “Fact is,” he said, as if he had made up his 
mind about something, “I might need your help in the 
little matter I’ve got on hand, bur it won’t cost you any 
trouble. Now, this Air. Helton here, like I tell you, he’s 
a dangerous escaped loonatic, you might say. Now fact 
is, in the last twelve years or so I musta rounded up 
twenty-odd escaped loonatics, besides a couple of es- 
caped convicts that I just run into by accident, like. I 
don’t make a business of it, but if there’s a reward, and 
there usually is a reward, of course, I get it. It amounts 
to a tidy little sum in the long run, but that ain’t the 
main question. Fact is. I’m for law and order, I don’t 
like to see lawbreakers and loonatics at large. It ain’t 
the place for them. Now I reckon you’re bound to agree 
with me on that, aren’t you?” 

Noon Wine 

Mr. Thompson said, “Well, circumstances alters cases, 
as the feller says. Now, what I know of Mr. Helton, he 
ain’t dangerous, as I told you.” Something serious was 
going to happen, Mr. Thompson could see that. He 
stopped thinking about it. He’d just let this fellow shoot 
off his head and then see what could be done about it. 
Without thinking he got out his knife and plug and 
started to cut a chew, then remembered himself and 
put them back in his pocket. 

“The law,” said Mr. Hatch, “is solidly behind me. 
Now this Mr. Helton, he’s been one of my toughest 
cases. He’s kept my record from being practically one 
hundred per cent. I knew him before he went loony, 
and I know the fam’ly, so I undertook to help out round- 
ing him up. Well, sir, he was gone slick as a whistle, for 
all we knew the man was as good as dead long while 
ago. Now we never might have caught up with him, 
but do you know what he did? Well, sir, about two 
weeks ago his old mother gets a letter from him, and in 
that letter, what do you reckon she found? Well, it was 
a check on that little bank in town for eight hundred 
and fifty dollars, just like that; the letter wasn’t nothing 
much, just said he was sending her a few little savings, 
she might need something, but there it was, name, post- 
mark, date, everything. The old woman practically lost 
her mind with joy. She’s gettin’ childish, and it looked 


Noon Wine 

like she kinda forgot that her only living son killed his 
brother and went loony. Mr. Helton said he was getting 
along all right, and for her not to tell nobody. Well, 
natchally, she couldn’t keep it to herself, with that 
check to cash and everything. So that’s how I come 
to know.” His feelings got the better of him. “You 
coulda knocked me down with a feather.” He shook 
hands with himself and rocked, wagging his head, go- 
ing “Heh, heh,” in his throat. Mr. Thompson felt the 
corners of his mouth turning down. Why, the dirty 
low-down hound, sneaking around spying into other 
people’s business like that. Collecting blood money, 
that’s what it was! Let him talk! 

“Yea, well, that musta been a surprise all right,” he 
said, trying to hold his voice even. “I’d say a surprise.’* 

“Well, siree,” said A^r. Hatch, “the more I got to 
thinking about it, the more I just come to the conclu- 
sion that I’d better look into the matter a little, and so 
I talked to the old woman. She’s pretty decrepit, now, 
half blind and all, but she was all for taking the first 
train out and going to see her son. I put it up to her 
square— how she was too feeble for the trip, and all. So, 
just as a favor to her, I told her for my expenses I’d 
come down and see Mr. Helton and bring her back all 
the news about him. She gave me a new shirt she made 
herself by hand, and a big Swedish kind of cake to 


Noon Wine 

bring to him, but I musta mislaid them along the road 
somewhere. It don’t reely matter, though, he prob’ly 
ain’t in any state of mind to appreciate ’em.” 

Mr. Thompson sat up and turning round on the log 
looked at Mr. Hatch and asked as quietly as he could, 
“And now what are you aiming to do? That’s the ques- 

Mr. Hatch slouched up to his feet and shook himself. 
“Well, I come all prepared for a little scuffle,” he said. 
“I got the handcuffs,” he said, “but I don’t want no 
violence if I can help it. I didn’t want to say nothing 
around the countryside, making an uproar. I figured the 
two of us could overpower him.” He reached into his 
big inside pocket and pulled them out. Handcuffs, for 
God’s sake, thought Mr. Thompson. Coming round on 
a peaceable afternoon worrying a man, and making 
trouble, and fishing handcuffs out of his pocket on a 
decent family homestead, as if it was all in the day’s 

Mr. Thompson, his head buzzing, got up too. “Well,” 
he said, roundly, “I want to tell you I think you’ve got 
a mighty sorry job on hand, you sure must be hard up 
for something to do, and now I want to give you a good 
piece of advice. You just drop the idea that you’re go- 
ing to come here and make trouble for Mr. Helton, and 

Noon Wine 

the quicker you drive that hired rig away from my 
front gate the better I’ll be satisfied.” 

Mr. Hatch put one handcuff in his outside pocket, the 
other dangling down. He pulled his hat down over his 
eyes, and reminded Mr. Thompson of a sheriff, some- 
how. He didn’t seem in the least nervous, and didn’t 
take up Mr. Thompson’s words. He said, “Now listen 
just a minute, it ain’t reasonable to suppose that a man 
like yourself is going to stand in the way of getting an 
escaped loonatic back to the asylum where he belongs. 
Now I know it’s enough to throw you off, coming sud- 
den like this, but fact is I counted on your being a re- 
spectable man and helping me out to see that justice is 
done. Now a course, if you won’t help. I’ll have to look 
around for help somewheres else. It won’t look very 
good to your neighbors that you was harbring an es- 
caped loonatic who killed his own brother, and then 
you refused to give him up. It w'ill look mighty funny.” 

Mr. Thompson knew almost before he heard the 
words that it would look funny. It would put him in a 
mighty awkward position. He said, “But I’ve been try- 
ing to tell you all along that the man ain’t loony now 
He’s been perfectly harmless for nine years. He’s— 

Mr. Thompson couldn’t think how to describe how 
it was with Mr. Helton. “Why, he’s been like one of 

Noon Wine 

the family,” he said, “the best standby a man ever had.” 
Mr. Thompson tried to see his way out. It was a fact 
Mr. Helton might go loony again any minute, and now 
this fellow talking around the country would put Mr. 
Thompson in a fix. It was a terrible position. He couldn’t 
think of any way out. “Yqu’re crazy,” Mr. Thompson 
roared suddenly, “you’re the crazy one around here, 
you’re crazier than he ev’^er was! You get off this place 
or I’ll handcuff you and turn you over to the law. You’re 
trespassing,” shouted Mr. Thompson. “Get out of here 
before I knock you down!” 

He took a step towards the fat man, who backed off, 
shrinking, “Try it, try it, go ahead!” and then some- 
thing happened that Mr. Thompson tried hard after- 
wards to piece together in his mind, and in fact it never 
did come straight. He saw the fat man with his long 
bowie knife in his hand, he saw Mr. Helton come round 
the corner on the run, his long jaw dropped, his arms 
swinging, his eyes wild. Mr. Helton came in between 
them, fists doubled up, then stopped short, glaring at 
the fat man, his big frame seemed to collapse, he trem- 
bled like a shied horse; and then the fat man drove at 
him, knife in one hand, handcuffs in the other. Mr. 
Thompson saw it coming, he saw the blade going into 
Mr. Helton’s stomach, he knew he had the ax out of the 
log in his own hands, felt his arms go up over his Iiead 

Noon Wine 

and bring the ax down on Mr, Hatch’s head as if he 
were stunning a beef. 

Mrs. Thompson had been listening uneasily for some 
time to the voices going on, one of them strange to her, 
but she was too tired .at first to get up and come out 
to see what was going on. The confused shouting that 
rose so suddenly brought her up to her feet and out 
across the front porch without her slippers, hair half- 
braided. Shading her eyes, she saw first Mr. Helton, run- 
ning all stooped over through the orchard, running like 
a man with dogs after him; and Mr. Thompson sup- 
porting himself on the ax handle was leaning over shak- 
ing by the shoulder a man Mrs. Thompson had never 
seen, who lay doubled up with the top of his head 
smashed and the blood running away in a greasy-looking 
puddle. Mr. Thompson without taking his hand from 
the man’s shoulder, said in a thick voice, “He killed 
Mr. Helton, he killed him, I saw him do it. I had to 
knock him out,” he called loudly, “but he won’t come 

Mrs. Thompson said in a faint scream, “Why, yonder 
goes Mr. Helton,” and she pointed. Mr. Thompson 
pulled himself up and looked where she pointed. Airs. 
Thompson sat down slowly against the side of the house 
and began to slide forward on her face; she felt as if she 
were drownin'!, she couldn’t rise to the top somehow, 


Noon Wine 

and her only thought was she was glad the boys were 
not there, they were out, fishing at Halifax, oh, God, 
she w'as glad the boys were not there. 

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson drove up to their barn about 
sunset. Mr. Thompson handed the reins to his wife, got 
out to open the big door, and Airs. Thompson guided 
old Jim in under the roof. The buggy was gray with 
dust and age, Mrs. Thompson’s face was gray with dust 
and weariness, and Mr. Thompson’s face, as he stood 
at the horse’s head and began unhitching, was gray ex- 
cept for the dark blue of his freshly shaven jaws and 
chin, gray and blue and caved in, but patient, like a 
dead man’s face. 

Mrs. Thompson stepped down to the hard packed 
manure of the barn floor, and shook out her light flower- 
sprigged dress. She wore her smoked glasses, and her 
wide shady leghorn hat with the wreath of exhausted 
pink and blue forget-me-nots hid her forehead, fixed in a 
knot of distress. 

The horse hung his head, raised a huge sigh and flexed 
his stiffened legs. Afr. Thompson’s words came up muf- 
fled and hollow. “Poor ole Jim,” he said, clearing his 
throat, “he looks pretty sunk in the ribs. I guess he’s 
had a hard week.” He lifted the harness up in one piece. 


Noon Wine 

slid it off and Jim walked out of the shafts halting a 
little. “Well, this is the last time,” Mr. Thompson said, 
still talking to Jim. “Now you can get a good rest.” 

Mrs. Thompson closed her eyes behind her smoked 
glasses. The last time, and high time, and they should 
never have gone at all. She did not need her glasses any 
more, now the good darkness was coming down again, 
but her eyes ran full of tears steadily, though she was 
not crying, and she felt better with the glasses, safer, 
hidden away behind them. She took out her handker- 
chief with her hands shaking as they had been shaking 
ever since that day, and blew her nose. She said, “I see 
the boys have lighted the lamps. I hope they’ve started 
the stove going.” 

She stepped along the rough path holding her thin 
dress and starched petticoats around her, feeling her way 
between the sharp small stones, leaving the barn because 
she could hardly bear to be near Mr. Thompson, ad- 
vancing slowly towards the house because she dreaded 
going there. Life was all one dread, the faces of her 
neighbors, of her boys, of her husband, the face of the 
whole world, the shape of her own house in the dark- 
ness, the very smell of the grass and the trees were hor- 
rible to her. There was no place to go, only one thing 
to do, bear it somehow— but how? She asked herself 
that question often. How was she going to keep on liv- 


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ing now? Why had she lived at all? She wished now she 
had died one of those times when she had been so sick, 
instead of living on for this. 

The boys were in the kitchen; Herbert was looking 
at the funny pictures from last Sunday’s newspapers, 
the Katzenjammer Kids and Happy Hooligan. His chin 
was in his hands and his elbows on the table, and he was 
really reading and looking at the pictures, but his face 
was unhappy. Arthur was building the fire, adding kin- 
dling a stick at a time, watching it catch and blaze. His 
face was heavier and darker than Herbert’s, but he was 
a little sullen by nature; Mrs. Thompson thought, he 
takes things harder, too. Arthur said, “Hello, Momma,” 
and went on with his work. Herbert swept the papers 
together and moved over on the bench. They were big 
boys— fifteen and seventeen, and Arthur as tall as his 
father. Mrs. Thompson sat down beside Herbert, taking 
off her hat. She said, “I guess you’re hungry. We were 
late today. We went the Log Hollow road, it’s rougher 
than ever.” Her pale mouth drooped with a sad fold 
on either side. 

“I guess you saw the Mannings, then,” said Herbert. 

“Yes, and the Fergusons, and the Allbrights, and that 
new family McClellan.” 

“Anybody say anything?” asked Herbert. 

“Nothing much, you know how it’s been all along, 


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some of them keeps saying, yes, they know it was a 
clear case and a fair trial and they say how glad they 
are your papa came out so well, and all that, some of 
’em do, anyhow, but it looks like they don’t really take 
sides with him. I’m about wore out,” she said, the tears 
rolling again from under her dark glasses. “I don’t know 
what good it does, but your papa can’t seem to rest un- 
less he’s telling how it happened. I don’t know.” 

“I don’t think it does any good, not a speck,” said 
Arthur, moving away from the stove. “It just keeps the 
whole question stirred up in people’s minds. Everybody 
will go round telling what he heard, and the whole 
thing is going to get worse mixed up than ever. It just 
makes matters worse. I wish you could get Papa to stop 
driving round the country talking like that.” 

“Your papa knows best,” said Mrs. Thompson. “You 
oughtn’t to criticize him. He’s got enough to put up 
with without that.” 

Arthur said nothing, his jaw stubborn. Mr. Thomp- 
son came in, his eyes hollowed out and dead-looking, 
his thick hands gray white and seamed from washing 
them clean every day before he started out to see the 
neighbors to tell them his side of the story. He was 
wearing his Sunday clothes, a thick pepper-and-salt- 
colored suit with a black string tie. 

Mrs. Thompson stood up, her head swimming. “Now 


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you-all get out of the kitchen, it’s too hot in here and I 
need room. I’ll get us a little bite of supper, if you’ll 
just get out and give me some room.” 

They went as if they were glad to go, the boys out- 
side, Mr. Thompson into his bedroom. She heard him 
groaning to himself as he took off his shoes, and heard 
the bed creak as he lay down. Mrs. Thompson opened 
the icebox and felt the sweet coldness flow out of it; 
she had never expected to have an icebox, much less 
did she hope to afford to keep it filled with ice. It still 
seemed like a miracle, after two or three years. There 
was the food, cold and clean, all ready to be warmed 
over. She would never have had that icebox if Mr. Hel- 
ton hadn’t happened along one day, just by the strangest 
luck; so saving, and so managing, so good, thought Mrs. 
Thompson, her heart swelling until she feared she would 
faint again, standing there with the door open and lean- 
ing her head upon it. She simply could not bear to re- 
member Mr. Helton, with his long sad face and silent 
ways, who had always been so quiet and harmless, who 
had worked so hard and helped Mr. Thompson so much, 
running through the hot fields and woods, being hunted 
like a mad dog, everybody turning out with ropes and 
guns and sticks to catch and tie him. Oh, God, said Mrs. 
Thompson in a long dry moan, kneeling before the ice- 
box and fumbling inside for the dishes, even if they did 


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pile mattresses all over the jail floor and against the walls, 
and five men there to hold him to keep him from hurt- 
ing himself any more, he was already hurt too badly, 
he couldn’t have lived anyway. Mr. Barbee, the sheriff, 
told her about it. He said, well, they didn’t aim to harm 
him but they had to catch him, he was crazy as a loon; 
he picked up rocks and tried to brain every man that 
got near him. He had two harmonicas in his jumper 
pocket, said the sheriff, but they fell out in the scuffle, 
and Mr. Helton tried to pick ’em up again, and that’s 
when they finally got him. “They had to be rough, 
Miz Thompson, he fought like a wildcat.” Yes, thought 
Afrs. Thompson again with the same bitterness, of 
course, they had to be rough. They always have to be 
rough. Mr. Thompson can’t argue with a man and get 
him off the place peaceably; no, she thought, standing 
up and shutting the icebox, he has to kill somebody, he 
has to be a murderer and ruin his boys’ lives and cause 
Afr. Helton to be killed like a mad dog. 

Her thoughts stopped with a little soundless explo- 
sion, cleared and began again. The rest of Mr. Helton’s 
harmonicas were still in the shack, his tune ran in Mrs. 
Thompson’s head at certain times of the day. She missed 
it in the evenings. It seemed so strange she had never 
known the name of that song, nor what it meant, until 
after Mr. Helton was gone. Mrs. Thompson, trembling 


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in the knees, took a drink of water at the sink and 
poured the red beans into the baking dish, and began 
to roll the pieces of chicken in flour to fry them. There 
was a time, she said to herself, when I thought I had 
neighbors and friends, there was a time when we could 
hold up our heads, there was a time when my husband 
hadn’t killed a man and I could tell the truth to any- 
body about anything. 

Mr. Thompson, turning on his bed, figured that he had 
done all he could, he’d just try to let the matter rest 
from now on. His lawyer, Mr. Burleigh, had told him 
right at the beginning, “Now you keep calm and col- 
lected. You’ve got a fine case, even if you haven’t got 
witnesses. Your wife must sit in court, she’ll be a pow- 
erful argument with the jury. You just plead not guilty 
and I’ll do the rest. The trial is going to be a mere for- 
mality, you haven’t got a thing to worry about. You’ll 
be clean out of this before you know it.” And to make 
talk Mr. Burleigh had got to telling about all the men 
he knew around the country who for one reason or an- 
other had been forced to kill somebody, always in self- 
defense, and there just wasn’t anything to it at all. He 
even told about how his own father in the old days had 
shot and killed a man just for setting foot inside his gate 

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when he told him not to. “Sure, I shot the scoundrel,” 
said Mr. Burleigh’s father, “in self-defense; I told him 
I’d shoot him if he set his foot in my yard, and he did, 
and I did.” There had been bad blood between them 
for years, Mr. Burleigh said, and his father had waited a 
long time to catch the other fellow in the wrong, and 
when he did he certainly made the most of his oppor- 

“But Mr. Hatch, as I told you,” Mr. Thompson had 
said, “made a pass at Mr. Helton with his bowie knife. 
That’s why I took a hand.” 

“All the better,” said Mr. Burleigh. “That stranger 
hadn’t any right coming to your house on such an er- 
rand. Why, hell,” said Mr. Burleigh, “that wasn’t even 
manslaughter you committed. So now you just hold 
your horses and keep your shirt on. And don’t say one 
word without I tell you.” 

Wasn’t even manslaughter. Mr. Thompson had to 
cover Mr. Hatch with a piece of wagon canvas and ride 
to town to tell the sheriff. It had been hard on Ellie. 
When they got back, the sheriff and the coroner and 
two deputies, they found her sitting beside the road, on 
a low bridge over a gulley, about half a mile from the 
place. He had taken her up behind his saddle and got 
her back to the house. He had already told the sheriff 
that his wife had witnessed the whole business, and now 


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he had time, getting her to her room and in bed, to tell 
her what to say if they asked anything. He had left 
out the part about Mr. Helton being crazy all along, 
but it came out at the trial. By Mr. Burleigh’s advice 
Mr. Thompson had pretended to be perfectly ignorant; 
Mr. Hatch hadn’t said a word about that. Mr. Thomp- 
son pretended to believe that Mr. Hatch had Just come 
looking for Mr. Helton to settle old scores, and the two 
members of Mr. Hatch’s family who had come down to 
try to get Mr. Thompson convicted didn’t get anywhere 
at all. It hadn’t been much of a trial, Mr. Burleigh saw 
to that. He had charged a reasonable fee, and Mr. 
Thompson had paid him and felt grateful, but after it 
was over Mr. Burleigh didn’t seem pleased to see him 
when he got to dropping into the office to talk it over, 
telling him things that had slipped his mind at first: try- 
ing to explain what an ornery Iom”^ hound Mr. Hatch 
had been, anyhow. Mr. Burleigh seemed to have lost his 
interest; he looked sour and upset when he saw Mr. 
Thompson at the door. Mr. Thompson kept saying to 
himself that he’d got off, all right, just as Mr. Burleigh 
had predicted, but, but— and it was right there that Mr. 
Thompson’s mind stuck, squirming like an angleworm 
on a fishhook: he had killed Mr. Hatch, and he was a 
murderer. That was the truth about himself that Mr. 
Thompson couldn’t grasp, even when he said the word 


Noon Wine 

to himself. Why, he had not even once thought of kill- 
ing anybody, much less Mr. Hatch, and if Mr. Helton 
hadn’t come out so unexpectedly, hearing the row, why, 
then— but then, Mr. Helton had come on the run that 
way to help him. What he couldn’t understand was 
what happened next. He had seen Mr. Hatch go after 
Mr. Helton with the knife, he had seen the point, blade 
up, go into Mr. Helton’s stomach and slice up like you 
slice a hog, but when they finally caught Mr. Helton 
there wasn’t a knife scratch on him. Mr. Thompson 
knew he had the ax in his own hands and felt himself 
lifting it, but he couldn’t remember hitting Mr. Hatch. 
He couldn’t remember it. He couldn’t. He remembered 
only that he had been determined to stop Mr. Hatch 
from cutting Mr. Helton. If he was given a chance he 
could explain the whole matter. At the trial they hadn’t 
let him talk. They just asked questions and he answered 
yes or no, and they never did get to the core of the 
matter. Since the trial, now, every day for a week he 
had washed and shaved and put on his best clothes and 
had taken Ellie with him to tell every neighbor he had 
that he never killed Mr. Hatch on purpose, and what 
good did it do? Nobody believed him. Even when he 
turned to Ellie and said, “You was there, you saw it, 
didn’t you?” and Ellie spoke up, saying, “Yes, that’s the 
truth. Mr. Thompson was trying to save Mr. Helton’s 


Noon Wine 

life,” and he added, “If you don’t believe me, you can 
believe my wife. She won’t lie,” Mr. Thompson saw 
something in all tltcir faces that disheartened him, made 
him feel empty and tired out. They didn’t believe he 
was not a murderer. 

Even Ellie never said anything to comfort him. He 
hoped she would say finally, “I remember now, Mr. 
Thompson, I really did come round the corner in time 
to see everything. It’s not a lie, Mr. Thompson. Don’t 
vou worry.” But as they drove together in silence, with 
the days still hot and dry, shortening for fall, day after 
day, the buggy jolting in the ruts, she said nothing; 
they grew to dread the sight of another house, and the 
people in it: all houses looked alike now, and the people 
—old neighbors or new— had the same expression when 
Mr. Thompson told them why he had come and began 
his story. Their eyes looked as if someone had pinched 
the eyeball at the back; they shriveled and the light 
went out of them. Some of them sat with fixed tight 
smiles trying to be friendly. “Yes, jMr. Thompson, we 
know how you must feel. It must be terrible for you, 
Mrs. Thompson. Yes, you know, I’ve about come to the 
point where I believe in such a thing as killing in self- 
defense. Why, certainly, we believe you, Mr. Thomp- 
son, why shouldn’t we believe you? Didn’t you have a 

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perfectly fair and above-board trial? Well, now, natch- 
ally, Mr. Thompson, we think you done right.” 

Mr. Thompson was satisfied they didn’t think so. 
Sometimes the air around him was so thick with their 
blame he fought and pushed with his fists, and the sweat 
broke out all over him, he shouted his story in a dust- 
choked voice, he would fairly bellow at last: “My wife, 
here, you know her, she was there, she saw and heard 
it all, if you don’t believe me, ask her, she won’t lie!” 
and Mrs. Thompson, with her hands knotted together, 
aching, her chin trembling, would never fail to say: 
“Yes, that’s right, that’s the truth—” 

The last straw had been laid on today, Mr. Thomp- 
son decided. Tom Allbright, an old beau of Elbe’s, why, 
he had squired Elbe around a whole summer, had come 
out to meet them when they drove up, and standing 
there bareheaded had stopped them from getting out. 
He had looked past them with an embarrassed fro^vn 
on his face, telling them his wife’s sister was there with 
a raft of young ones, and the house was pretty full and 
everything upset, or he’d ask them to come in. “We’ve 
been thinking of trying to get up to your place one of 
these days,” said Mr. Allbright, moving away trying to 
look busy, “we’ve been mighty occupied up here of 
late.” So they had to say, “Well, wc just happened to 
be driving this way,” and go on. “The AUbrights,” said 


Noon Wine 

Mrs. Thompson, “always was fair-weather friends.” 
“They look out for number one, that’s a fact,” said Mr. 
Thompson. But it was cold comfort to them both. 

Finally Mrs. Thompson had given up. “Let’s go 
home,” she said. “Old Jim’s tired and thirsty, and we’ve 
gone far enough.” 

jMr. Thompson said, “Well, while we’re out this way, 
we might as well stop at the McClellans’.” They drove 
in, and asked a little cotton-haired boy if his mamma and 
papa were at home. Mr. Thompson wanted to see them. 
The little boy stood gazing with his mouth open, then 
galloped into the house shouting, “Mommer, Popper, 
come out hyah. That man that kilt .Mr. Hatch has come 
ter .sec ycr!” 

I'he man came out in his sock feet, with one gallus 
up, the other broken and dangling, and said, “Light 
down, Mr. Thompson, and come in. The ole woman’s 
washing, but she’ll git here.” Mrs. Thompson, feeling 
her way, stepped down and sat in a broken rocking- 
chair on the porch that sagged under her feet. The 
woman of the house, barefooted, in a calico wrapper, 
sat on the edge of the porch, Iier fat sallow face full 
of curiosity. Mr. Thompson began, “Well, as I reckon 
you happen to know. I’ve had some strange troubles 
lately, and, as the feller says, it’s not the kind of trouble 
that happens to a man every day in the year, and there’s 

1 66 

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some things I don’t want no misunderstanding about in 
the neighbors’ minds, so—” He halted and stumbled for- 
ward, and the two listening faces took on a mean look, 
a greedy, despising look, a look that said plain as day, 
“My, you must be a purty sorry feller to come round 
worrying about what we think, we know you wouldn’t 
be here if you had anybody else to turn to— my, I 
wouldn’t lower myself that much, myself.” Mr. Thomp- 
son was ashamed of himself, he was suddenly in a rage, 
he’d like to knock their dirty skunk heads together, the 
low-down white trash— but he held himself down and 
went on to the end. “My wife will tell you,” he said, 
and this was the hardest place, because Elbe always 
without moving a muscle seemed to stiffen as if some- 
body had threatened to hit her; “ask my wife, she won’t 

“It’s true, I saw it—” 

“Well, now,” said the man, drily, scratching his ribs 
inside his shirr, “that sholy is too bad. Well, now, I kaint 
see what we’ve got to do with all this here, however. 
I kaint see no good reason for us to git mixed up in 
these murder matters, I shore kaint. Whichever way 
you look at it, it ain’t none of my business. However, 
it’s mighty nice of you-all to come around and give us 
the straight of it, fur we’ve heerd some mighty queer 


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yarns about it, mighty queer, I golly you couldn’t hardly 
make head ner tail of it.” 

“Evvybody goin’ round shootin’ they heads off,” 
said the woman. “Now we don’t hold with killin’; the 
Bible says—” 

“Shet yer trap,” said the man, “and keep it shet ’r I’ll 
shet it fer yer. Now it shore looks like to me—” 

“W'^e mustn’t linger,” said Mrs. Thompson, unclasping 
her hands. “We’ve lingered too long now. It’s getting 
late, and we’ve far to go.” Mr. Thompson took the hint 
and followed her. The man and the woman lolled against 
their rickety porch poles and watched them go. 

Now lying on his bed, Mr. Thompson knew the end 
had come. Now, this minute, lying in the bed where 
he had slept with Elbe for eighteen years; under this 
roof where he had laid the shingles when he was wait- 
ing to get married; there as he was with his whiskers 
already sprouting since his shave that meaning; with his 
fingers feeling his bony chin, Mr. Thompson felt he 
was a dead man. He was dead to his other life, he had 
got to the end of something without knowing why, and 
he had to make a fresh start, he did not know how. 
Something different was going to begin, he didn’t know 
what. It was in some way not his business. He didn’t 
feel he was going to have much to do with it. He got 

Noon Wine 

up, aching, hollow, and went out to the kitchen where 
Mrs. Thompson was just taking up the supper. 

“Call the boys,” said Mrs. Thompson. They had been 
down to the barn, and Arthur put out the lantern be- 
fore hanging it on a nail near the door. Mr. Thomp- 
son didn’t like their silence. They had hardly said a 
word about anything to him since that day. They 
seemed to avoid him, they ran the place together as if 
he wasn’t there, and attended to everything without ask- 
ing him for any advice. “What you boys been up to?” 
he asked, trying to be hearty. “Finishing your chores?” 

“No, sir,” said Arthur, “there ain’t much to do. Just 
greasing some axles.” Herbert said nothing. Mrs. 
Thompson bowed her head: “For these and all Thy 
blessings. . . . Amen,” she whispered weakly, and the 
Thompsons sat there with their eyes down and their 
faces sorrowful, as if they were at a funeral. 

Every time he shut his eyes, trying to sleep, Mr. Thomp- 
son’s mind started up and began to run like a rabbit. It 
jumped from one thing to another, trying to pick up a 
trail here or there that would straighten out what had 
happened that day he killed Mr. Hatch. Try as he might, 
Mr. Thompson’s' mind would not go anywhere that it 
had not already been, he could not see anything but 


Noon Wine 

what he had seen once, and he knew that was not right. 
If he had not seen straight that first time, then every- 
thing about his killing Mr. Hatch was wrong from start 
to finish, and there was nothing more to be done about 
it, he might just as well give up. It still seemed to him 
that he had done, maybe not the right thing, but the 
only thing he could do, that day, but had he? Did he 
have to kill Mr. Hatch? He had never seen a man he 
hated more, the minute he laid eyes on him. He knew 
in his bones the fellow was there for trouble. What 
seemed so funny now was this: Why hadn’t he just told 
Mr. Hatch to get out before he ever even got in? 

Mrs. Thompson, her arms crossed on her breast, was 
lying beside him, perfectly still, but she seemed awake, 
somehow. “Asleep, Ellie?” 

After all, he might have got rid of him peaceably, or 
maybe he might have had to overpower him and put 
those handcuffs on him and turn him over to the sheriff 
for disturbing the peace. The most they could have 
done was to lock Air. Hatch up while he cooled off for 
a few days, or fine him a little something. He would 
try to think of things he might have said to Mr. Hatch. 
Why, let’s see, I could just have said. Now look here, 
Mr. Hatch, I want to talk to you as man to man. But 
his brain would go empty. What could he have said or 
done? But if he could have done anything else almost 


Noon Wine 

except kill Mr. Hatch, then nothing would have hap*, 
pened to Mr. Helton. Mr. Thompson hardly ever 
thought of Mr. Helton. His mind just skipped over him 
and went on. If he stopped to think about Mr. Helton 
he’d never in God’s world get anywhere. He tried to 
imagine how it might all have been, this very night 
even, if Mr. Helton were still safe and sound out in his 
shack playing his tune about feeling so good in the 
morning, drinking up all the wine so you’d feel even 
better; and Mr. Hatch safe in jail somewhere, mad as 
hops, maybe, but out of harm’s way and ready to listen 
to reason and to repent of his meanness, the dirty, 
yellow-livered hound coming around persecuting an in- 
nocent man and ruining a whole family that never 
harmed him! Mr. Thompson felt the veins of his fore- 
head start up, his fists clutched as if they seized an ax 
handle, the sweat broke out on him, he bounded up 
from the bed with a yell smothered in his throat, and 
Ellie started up after him, crying out, “Oh, oh, don’t! 
Don’t! Don’t!” as if she were having a nightmare. He 
stood shaking until his bones rattled in him, crying 
hoarsely, “Light the lamp, light the lamp, Ellie.” 

Instead, Mrs. Thompson gave a shrill weak scream, 
almost the same scream he had heard on that day she 
came around the house w'hen he was standing there 
with the ax in his hand. He could not see her in the 

Noon Wine 

dark, but she was on the bed, rolling violently. He felt 
for her in horror, and his groping hands found her arms, 
up, and her own hands pulling her hair straight out from 
her head, her neck strained back, and the tight screams 
strangling her. He shouted out for Arthur, for Herbert. 
“Your mother!” he bawled, his voice cracking. As he 
held Mrs. Thompson’s arms, the boys came tumbling 
in, Arthur with the lamp above his head. By this light 
Mr. Thompson saw Mrs. Thompson’s eyes, wide open, 
staring dreadfully at him, the tears pouring. She sat up 
at sight of the boys, and held out one arm towards them, 
the hand wagging in a crazy circle, then dropped on 
her back again, and suddenly went limp. Arthur set the 
lamp on the table and turned on Mr. Thompson. “She’s 
scared,” he said, “she’s scared to death.” His face was in 
a knot of rage, his fists were doubled up, he faced his 
father as if he meant to strike him. Mr. Thompson’s jaw 
fell, he was so surprised he stepped back from the bed. 
Herbert went to the other side. They stood on each 
side of Mrs. Thompson and watched Mr. Thompson as 
if he were a dangerous wild beast. “What did you do 
to her?” shouted Arthur, in a grown man’s voice. “You 
touch her again and I’ll blow your heart out!” Herbert 
was pale and his cheek twitched, but he was on Arthur’s 
side; he would do what he could to help Arthur. 

Mr. Thompson had no fight left in him. His knees 


Noon Wine 

bent as he stood, his chest collapsed. “Why, Arthur,” he 
said, his words crumbling and his breath coming short. 
“She’s fainted again. Get the ammonia.” Arthur did not 
move. Herbert brought the bottle, and handed it, shrink- 
ing, to his father. 

Mr. Thompson held it under Mrs. Thompson’s nose. 
He poured a little in the palm of his hand and rubbed 
it on her forehead. She gasped and opened her eyes 
and turned her head away from him. Herbert began a 
doleful hopeless sniffling. “Mamma,” he kept saying, 
“Mamma, don’t die.” 

“I’m all right,” Mrs. Thompson said. “Now don’t you 
worry around. Now Herbert, you mustn’t do that. I’m 
all right.” She closed her eyes. Mr. Thompson began 
pulling on his best pants; he put on his socks and shoes. 
Tlie boys sat on each side of the bed, watching Mrs. 
Thompson’s face. Mr. Thompson put on his shirt and 
coat. He said, “I reckon I’ll ride over and get the doc- 
tor. Don’t look like all this fainting is a good sign. Now 
you just keep watcli until I get back.” They listened, 
but said nothing. He said, “Don’t you get any notions 
in your head. I never did your mother any harm in my 
life, on purpose.” He went out, and, looking back, saw 
Herbert staring at him from under his brows, like a 
stranger. “You’ll know how to look after her,” said 
Mr. Thompson. 


Noon Wine 

Mr. Thompson went through the kitchen. There he 
lighted the lantern, took a thin pad of scratch paper and 
a stub pencil from the shelf where the boys kept their 
schoolbooks. He swung the lantern on his arm and 
reached into the cupboard where he kept the guns. The 
shotgun was there to his hand, primed and ready, a man 
never knows when he may need a shotgun. He went 
out of the house witliout looking around, or looking 
back when he had left it, passed his barn without see- 
ing it, and struck out to the farthest end of his fields, 
which ran for half a mile to the east. So many blows 
had been struck at Air. Thompson and from so many 
directions he couldn’t stop any more to find out where 
he was hit. He walked on, over plowed ground and over 
meadow, going through ba bed wire fences cautiously, 
putting his gun through first; he could almost see in 
the dark, now his eyes were used to it. Finally he came 
to the last fence; here he sat down, back against a post, 
lantern at his side, and, with the pad on his knee, mois- 
tened the stub pencil and began to write: 

“Before Almighty God, the great judge of all before 
who I am about to appear, I do hereby solemnly swear 
that I did not take the life of Mr. Homer T. Hatch on 
purpose. It was done in defense of Mr. Helton. I did 
not aim to hit him with the ax but only to keep him off 


Noon Wine 

Mr. Helton. He aimed a blow at Mr. Helton who was 
not looking for it. It was my belief at the time that Mr. 
Hatch would of taken the life of Mr. Helton if I did 
not interfere. I have told all this to the judge and the 
jury and they let me off but nobody believes it. This 
is the only way I can prove I am not a cold blooded 
murderer like everybody seems to think. If I had been 
in Mr. Helton’s place he would of done the same for 
me. I still think I done the only thing there was to do. 
My wife—” 

Mr. Thompson stopped here to think a while. He wet 
the pencil point with the tip of his tongue and marked 
out the last two words. He sat a while blacking out the 
words until he had made a neat oblong patch where 
they had been, and started again: 

“It was Mr. Homer T. Hatch who came to do wrong 
to a harmless man. He caused all this trouble and he 
deserved to die but I am sorry it was me who had to 
kill him.” 

He licked the point of his pencil again, and signed 
his full name carefully, folded the paper and put it in 
his outside pocket. Taking off his right shoe and sock, 
he set the butt of the shotgun along the ground with 
the twin barrels pointed towards his head. It was very 
awkward. He thought about this a little, leaning his 


Noon Wine 

head against the gun mouth. He was trembling and his 
head was drumming until he was deaf and blind, but 
he lay down flat on the earth on his side, drew the barrel 
under his chin and fumbled for the trigger with his 
great toe. That way he could work it. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

IN sleep she knew she was in her bed, but not the bed 
she had lain down in a few hours since, and the room 
was not the same but it was a room she had known 
somewhere. Her heart was a stone lying upon her breast 
outside of her; her pulses lagged and paused, and she 
knew that something strange was going to happen, even 
as the early morning winds were cool through the lat- 
tice, the streaks of light were dark blue and the whole 
house was snoring in its sleep. 

Now I must get up and go while they are all quiet. 
Where are my things? Things have a will of their own 
in this place and hide where they like. Daylight will 
strike a sudden blow on the roof startling them all up 
to their feet; faces will beam asking. Where are you 
going. What are you doing. What are you thinking. 
How do you feel. Why do you say such things. What 
do you mean? No more sleep. Where are my boots and 
what horse shall I ride? Fiddler or Graylie or Miss Lucy 
with the long nose and the wicked eye? How I have 
loved this house in the morning before we are all awake 
and tangled together like badly cast fishing lines. Too 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

many people have been born here, and have wept too 
much here, and have laughed too much, and have been 
too angry and outrageous with each other here. Too 
many have died in this bed already, there are far too 
many ancestral bones propped up on the mantelpieces, 
there have been too damned many antimacassars in this 
house, she said loudly, and oh, what accumulation of 
storied dust never allowed to settle in peace for one 

And the stranger? Where is that lank greenish stran- 
ger I remember hanging about the place, welcomed by 
my grandfather, my great-aunt, my five times removed 
cousin, my decrepit hound and my silver kitten? Why 
did they take to him, I wonder? And where are they 
now? Yet I saw him pass the window in the evening. 
What else besides them did I have in the world? Noth- 
ing. Nothing is mine, I have only nothing but it is 
enough, it is beautiful and it is all mine. Do I even walk 
about in my own skin or is it something I have borrowed 
to spare my modesty? Now what horse shall I borrow 
for this journey I do not mean to take, Graylic or Miss 
Lucy or Fiddler who can jump ditches in the dark and 
knows how to get the bit between his teeth? Early 
morning is best for me because trees are trees in one 
stroke, stones are stones set in shades known to be grass, 
there are no false shapes or surmises, the road is still 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

asleep with the crust of dew unbroken. I’ll take Graylie 
because he is not afraid of bridges. 

Come now, Graylie, she said, taking his bridle, we 
must outrun Death and the Devil. You are no good for 
it, she told the other horses standing saddled before the 
stable gate, among them the horse of the stranger, gray 
also, with tarnished nose and ears. The stranger swung 
into his saddle beside her, leaned far towards her and 
regarded her without meaning, the blank still stare of 
mindless malice that makes no threats and can bide its 
time. She drew Graylie around sharply, urged him to 
run. He leaped the low rose hedge and the narrow ditch 
beyond, and the dust of the lane flew heavily under his 
beating hoofs. The stranger rode beside her, easily, 
lightly, his reins loose in his half-closed hand, straight 
and elegant in dark shabby garments that flapped upon 
his bones; his pale face smiled in an evil trance, he did 
not glance at her. Ah, I have seen this fellow before, I 
know this man if I could place him. He is no stranger 
to me. 

She pulled Graylie up, rose in her stirrups and 
shouted, I’m not going with you this time— ride on! 
Without pausing or turning his head the stranger rode 
on. Gray lie’s ribs heaved under her, her own ribs rose 
and fell. Oh, why am I so tired, I must wake up. “But 
let me get a fine yawn first,” she said, opening her eyes 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

and stretching, “a slap of cold water in my face, for 
I’ve been talking in my sleep again, I heard myself but 
what was I saying?” 

Slowly, unwillingly, Miranda drew herself up inch 
by inch out of the pit of sleep, waited in a daze for life 
to begin again. A single word struck in her mind, a gong 
of warning, reminding her for the day long what she 
forgot happily in sleep, and only in sleep. The war, said 
the gong, and she shook her head. Dangling her feet 
idly with their slippers hanging, she was reminded of 
the way all sorts of persons sat upon her desk at the 
newspaper office. Every day she found someone there, 
sitting upon her desk instead of the chair provided, dan- 
gling his legs, eyes roving, full of his important affairs, 
waiting to pounce about something or other. ^‘‘Why 
won’t they sit in the chair? Should I put a sign on it, 
saying, ‘For God’s sake, sit here’?” 

Far from putting up a sign, she did not even frown at 
her visitors. Usually she did not notice them at all until 
their determination to be seen was greater than her de- 
termination not to see them. Saturday, she thought, lying 
comfortably in her tub of hot water, will be pay day, 
as always. Or I hope always. Her thoughts roved hazily 
in a continual effort to bring together and unite firmly 
the disturbing oppositions in her day-to-day existence, 
where survival, she could see clearly, had become a series 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

of feats of sleight of hand. I owe— let me see, I wish I 
had pencil and paper— well, suppose I did pay five dol- 
lars now on a Liberty Bond, I couldn’t possibly keep it 
up. Or maybe. Eighteen dollars a week. So much for 
rent, so much for food, and I mean to have a few things 
besides. About five dollars’ worth. Will leave me 
twenty-seven cents. I suppose I can make it. I suppose 
I should be worried. I am worried. Very well, now I 
am worried and what next? Twenty-seven cents. That’s 
not so bad. Pure profit, really. Imagine if they should 
suddenly raise me to twenty I should then have two 
dollars and twenty-seven cents left over. But they aren’t 
going to raise me to twenty. They are in fact going to 
throw me out if I don’t buy a Liberty Bond. I hardly 
believe that. I’ll ask Bill. (Bill was the city editor.) 1 
wonder if a threat like that isn’t a kind of blackmail. I 
don’t believe even a Lusk Committeeman can get away 
with that. 

Yesterday there had been two pairs of legs dangling, 
on either side of her typewriter, both pairs stuffed 
thickly info funnels of dark expensive-looking material. 
She noticed at a distance that one of them was oldish 
and one was youngish, and they both of them had a 
stale air of borrowed importance which apparently they 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

had got from the same source. They were both much 
too well nourished and the younger one wore a square 
little mustache. Being what they were, no matter what 
their business was it would be something unpleasant. 
Miranda had nodded at them, pulled out her chair and 
without removing her cap or gloves had reached into a 
pile of letters and sheets from the copy desk as if she 
had not a moment to spare. They did not move, or take 
off their hats. At last she had said “Good morning” to 
them, and asked if they were, perhaps, waiting for her? 

The two men slid off the desk, leaving some of her 
papers rumpled, and the oldish man had inquired why 
she had not bought a Liberty Bond. Miranda had looked 
at him then, and got a poor impression. He was a pursy- 
faced man, gross-mouthed, with little lightless eyes, and 
Miranda wondered why nearly all of those selected to 
do the war work at home were of his sort. He might be 
anything at all, she thought; advance agent for a road 
show, promoter of a wildcat oil company, a former 
saloon keeper announcing the opening of a new cabaret, 
an automobile salesman— any follower of any one of the 
crafty, haphazard callings. But he was now all Patriot, 
working for the government. “Look here,” he asked her, 
“do you know there’s a war, or don’t you?” 

Did he expect an answer to that? Be quiet, Miranda 
told herself, this was bound to happen. Sooner or later 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

it happens. Keep your head. The man wagged his finger 
at her, “Do you?” he persisted, as if he were prompting 
an obstinate child. 

“Oh, the war,” Miranda had echoed on a rising note 
and she almost smiled at him. It was habitual, automatic, 
to give that solemn, mystically uplifted grin when you 
spoke the words or heard them spoken. “Cest la ^lerre,” 
whether you could pronounce it or not, was even better, 
and always, always, you shrugged. 

“Yeah,” said the younger man in a nasty way, “the 
war.” Miranda, startled by the tone, met his eye; his 
stare was really stony, really viciously cold, the kind of 
thing you might expect to meet behind a pistol on a 
deserted corner. This expression gave temporary mean- 
ing to a set of features otherwise nondescript, the face 
of those men who have no business of their own. “We’re 
having a war, and some people are buying Liberty Bonds 
and others just don’t seem to get around to it,” he said. 
“That’s what we mean.” 

Miranda frowned with nervousness, the sharp begin- 
nings of fear. “Are you selling them?” she asked, tak- 
ing the cover off her typewriter and putting it back 

“No, we’re not selling them,” said the older man. 
“We’re just asking you why you haven’t bought one.” 
The voice was persuasive and ominous. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Miranda began to explain that she had no money, and 
did not know where to find any, when the older man 
interrupted: “That’s no excuse, no excuse at all, and 
you know it, with the Huns overrunning martyred Bel- 

“With our American boys fighting and dying in Bel- 
leau Wood,” said the younger man, “anybody can raise 
fifty dollars to help beat the Boche.” 

Miranda said hastily, “I have eighteen dollars a week 
and not another cent in the world. I simply cannot buy 

“You can pay for it five dollars a week,” said the older 
man (they had stood there cawing back and forth over 
her head), “like a lot of other people in this office, and 
a lot of other offices besides are doing.” 

Miranda, desperately silent, had thought, “Suppose I 
were not a coward, but said what I really thought? Sup- 
pose I said to hell with this filthy war? Suppose I asked 
that little thug. What’s the matter with you, why aren’t 
you rotting in Belleau Wood? I wish you were . . 

She began to arrange her letters and notes, her fingers 
refusing to pick up things properly. The older man 
went on making his little set speech. It was hard, of 
course. Everybody was suffering, naturally. Everybody 
had to do his share. But as to that, a Liberty Bond was 
the safest investment you could make. It was just like 

1 86 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

having the money in the bank. Of course. The govern- 
ment was back of it and where better could you invest? 

“I agree with you about that,” said Miranda, “but I 
haven’t any money to invest.” 

And of course, the man had gone on, it wasn’t so 
much her fifty dollars that was going to make any dif- 
ference. It was just a pledge of good faith on her part. 
A pledge of good faith that she was a loyal American 
doing her duty. And the thing was safe as a church. 
Why, if he had a million dollars he’d be glad to put 
every last cent of it in these Bonds. . . . “You can’t 
lose by it,” he said, almost benevolently, “and you can 
lose a lot if you don’t. Think it over. You’re the only 
one in this whole newspaper office that hasn’t come in. 
And every firm in this city has come in one hundred per 
cent. Over at the Daily Clarion nobody had to be asked 

“They pay better over there,” said Miranda. “But 
next week, if I can. Not now, next week.” 

“See that you do,” said the younger man. “This ain’t 
any laughing matter.” 

They lolled away, past the Society Editor’s desk, past 
Bill the City Editor’s desk, past the long copy desk 
where old man Gibbons sat all night shouting at inter- 
vals, “Jarge! Jarge!” and the copy boy would come fly- 
ing. “Never say people when you mean persons,” old 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

man Gibbons had instructed Miranda, “and never say 
practically, say virtually, and don’t for God’s sake ever 
so long as I am at this desk use the barbarism inasaymch 
under any circumstances whatsoever. Now you’re edu- 
cated, you may go.” At the head of the stairs her in- 
quisitors had stopped in their fussy pride and vainglory, 
lighting cigars and wedging their hats more firmly over 
their eyes. 

Miranda turned over in the soothing water, and 
wished she might fall asleep there, to wake up only when 
it was time to sleep again. She had a burning slow head- 
ache, and noticed it now, remembering she had waked 
up with it and it had in fact begun the evening before. 
While she dressed she tried to trace the insidious career 
of her headache, and it seemed reasonable to suppose it 
had started with the war. “It’s been a headache, all right, 
but not quite like this.” After the Committeemen had 
left, yesterday, she had gone to the cloakroom and had 
found Mary Townsend, the Society Editor, quietly hys- 
terical about something. She was perched on the edge 
of the shabby wicker couch with ridges down the cen- 
ter, knitting on something rose-colored. Now and then 
she would put down her knitting, seize her head with 
both hands and rock, saying, “My God,” in a surprised, 

1 88 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

inquiring voice. Her column was called Ye Towne 
Gossyp, so of course everybody called her Towney. 
Miranda and Towney had a great deal in common, and 
liked each other. They had both been real reporters 
once, and had been sent together to “cover” a scan^ 
dalous elopement, in which no marriage had taken place, 
after all, and the recaptured girl, her face swollen, had 
sat with her mother, who was moaning steadily under a 
mound of blankets. They had both wept painfully and 
implored the young reporters to suppress the worst of 
the story. They had suppressed it, and the rival news- 
paper printed it all the ne.xt day. Miranda and Towney 
had then taken their punishment together, and had been 
degraded publicly to routine female jobs, one to the 
theaters, the other to society. They had this in common, 
that neither of them could see what else they could pos- 
sibly have done, and they knew they were considered 
fools by the rest of the staff— nice girls, but fools. At 
sight of Miranda, Towney had broken out in a rage, 
“1 can’t do it. I’ll never be able to raise the money, I 
told them, I can’t, I can’t, but they wouldn’t listen.” 

Miranda said, “I knew I wasn’t the only person in this 
office who couldn’t raise five dollars. I told them I 
couldn’t, too, and I can’t.” 

“A4y God,” said Towney, in the same voice, “they 
told me I’d lose my job—” 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“I’m going to ask Bill,” Miranda said; “I don’t believe 
Bill would do that.” 

“It’s not up to Bill,” said Towney. “He’d have to if 
they got after him. Do you suppose they could put us in 

“I don’t know,” said Miranda. “If they do, we won’t 
be lonesome.” She sat down beside Towney and held her 
own head. “What kind of soldier are you knitting that 
for? It’s a sprightly color, it ought to cheer him up.” 

“' like hell,” said Towney, her needles going again. 
“I’m naking this for myself. That’s that.” 

“Well,” said Miranda, “we won’t be lonesome and 
we’ll catch up on our sleep.” She washed her face and 
put on fresh make-up. Taking clean gray gloves out of 
her pocket she went out to Join a group of young 
women fresh from the country club dances, the morn- 
ing bridge, the charity bazaar, the Red Cross work- 
rooms, who were wallowing in good works. They gave 
tea dances and raised money, and with the money they 
bought quantities of sweets, fruit, cigarettes, and maga- 
zines for the men in the cantonment hospitals. With this 
loot they were now setting out, a gay procc.ssion of 
high-powered cars and brightly tinted faces to cheer 
the brave boys who already, you might very well say, 
had fallen in defense of their country. It must be fright- 
fully hard on them, the dears, to be floored like this 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

when they’re all crazy to get overseas and into the 
trenches as quickly as possible. Yes, and some of them 
are the cutest things you ever saw, I didn’t know there 
were so many good-looking men in this country, good 
heavens, I said, where do they come from? Well, my 
dear, you may ask yourself that question, who knows 
where they did come from? You’re quite right, the way 
I feel about it is this, we must do everything we can to 
make them contented, but I draw the line at talking to 
them. I told the chaperons at those dances for enlisted 
men. I’ll dance with them, every dumbbell who asks me, 
but I will NOT talk to them, I said, even if there is a war. 
So I danced hundreds of miles without opening my 
mouth except to say. Please keep your knees to yourself. 
I’m glad we gave those dances up. Yes, and the men 
stopped coming, anyway. But listen. I’ve heard that a 
great many of the enlisted men come from very good 
families; I’m not good at catching names, and those I did 
catch I’d never heard before, so I don’t know . . . but it 
seems to me if they were from good families, you’d know 
it, wouldn’t you? I mean, if a man is well bred he doesn’t 
step on your feet, does he? At least not that. I used to 
have a pair of sandals ruined at every one of those 
dances. Well, I think any kind of social life is in very 
poor taste just now, I think we should all put on our 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Red Cross head dresses and wear them for the duration 
of the war— 

Miranda, carrying her basket and her flowers, moved 
in among the young women, who scattered out and 
rushed upon the ward uttering girlish laughter meant to 
be refreshingly gay, but there was a grim determined 
clang in it calculated to freeze the blood. Miserably em- 
barrassed at the idiocy of her errand, she walked rapidly 
between the long rows of high beds, set foot to foot 
with a narrow aisle between. The men, a selected pre- 
sentable lot, sheets drawn up to their chins, not seriously 
ill, were bored and restless, most of them willing to be 
amused at anything. They were for the most part pic- 
turesquely bandaged as to arm or head, and those who 
were not visibly wounded invariably replied “Rheuma- 
tism” if some tactless girl, who had been solemnly 
warned never to ask this question, still forgot and asked 
a man what his illness was. The good-natured, eager 
ones, laughing and calling out from their hard narrow 
beds, were soon surrounded. Miranda, with her wilting 
bouquet and her basket of sweets and cigarettes, looking 
about, caught the unfriendly bitter eye of a young fel- 
low lying on his back, his right leg in a cast and pulley. 
She stopped at the foot of his bed and continued to look 
at him, and he looked back with an unchanged, hostile 
face. Not having any, thank you and be damned to the 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

whole business, his eyes said plainly to her, and will you 
be so good as to take your trash off my bed? For 
Miranda had set it down, leaning over to place it where 
he might be able to reach it if he would. Having set it 
down, she was incapable of taking it up again, but hur- 
ried away, her face burning, down the long aisle and 
out into the cool October sunshine, where the dreary 
raw barracks swarmed and worked with an aimless life 
of scurrying, dun-colored insects; and going around to a 
window near where he lay, she looked in, spying upon 
her soldier. He was lying with his eyes closed, his eye- 
brows in a sad bitter frown. She could not place him 
at all, she could not imagine where he came from nor 
what sort of being he might have been “in life,” she said 
to herself. His face was young and the features sharp 
and plain, the hands were not laborer’s hands but not 
well-cared-for hands either. They were good useful 
properly shaped hands, lying there on the coverlet. It 
occurred to her that it would be her luck to find him, 
instead of a jolly hungry puppy glad of a bite to eat and 
a little chatter. It is like turning a corner absorbed in 
your painful thoughts and meeting your state of mind 
embodied, face to face, she said. “My own feelings about 
this whole thing, made flesh. Never again will I come 
here, this is no sort of thing to be doing. This is disgust- 
ing,” she told herself plainly. “Of course I would pick 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Iiim out,” she thought, getting into the back seat of the 
car she came in, “serves me right, I know better.” 

Another girl came out looking very tired and climbed 
in beside her. After a short silence, the girl said in a puz- 
zled way, “I don’t know what good it does, really. Some 
of them wouldn’t take anything at all. I don’t hke this, 
do you?” 

“I hate it,” said .Miranda. 

“I suppose it’s all riglit, though,” said the girl, cau- 

“Perhaps,” said .Miranda, turning cautious also. 

That was for yesterday. At this point Miranda de- 
cided there was no good in thinking of yesterday, e.xcept 
for the hour after midnight she had spent dancing with 
Adam. He was in her mind so much, she hardly knew 
when she was thinking about him directly. His image 
was simply always present in more or less degree, he was 
sometimes nearer the surface of her thoughts, the pleas- 
antest, the only really pleasant thought she had. She ex- 
amined her face in the mirror between the windows and 
decided that her uneasiness was not all imagination. For 
three days at least she had felt odd and her expression 
was unfamiliar. She would have to raise that fifty dollars 
somehow, she supposed, or who knows what can hap- 
pen? She was hardened to stories of personal disaster, of 
outrageous accusations and extraordinarily bitter penal- 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

ties that had grown monstrously out of incidents very 
little more important thanherfailure— her refusal— to buy 
a Bond. No, she did not find herself a pleasing sight, 
flushed and shiny, and even her hair felt as if it had de- 
cided to grow in the other direction. I must do some- 
thing about this, I can’t let Adam see me like this, she 
told herself, knowing that even now at that moment he 
was listening for the turn of her door knob, and he 
would be in the hallway, or on the porch when she came 
out, as if by sheerest coincidence. The noon sunlight 
cast cold slanting shadows in the room where, she said, I 
suppose I live, and this day is beginning badly, but they 
all do now, for one reason or another. In a drowse, she 
sprayed perfume on her hair, put on her moleskin cap 
and jacket, now in their second winter, but still good, 
still nice to wear, again being glad she had paid a fright- 
ening price for them. She had enjoyed them all this time, 
and in no case would she have had the money now. 
Maybe she could manage for that Bond. She could not 
find the lock without leaning to search for it, then stood 
undecided a moment possessed by the notion that she 
had forgotten something she would miss seriously 
later on. 

Adam was in the hallway, a step outside his own door; 
he swung about as if quite startled to see her, and said. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“Hello. I don’t have to go back to camp today after all— 
isn’t that luck?” 

Miranda smiled at him gaily because she was always 
delighted at the sight of him. He was wearing his new 
uniform, and he was all olive and tan and tawny, hay 
colored and sand colored from hair to boots. She half 
noticed again that he always began by smiling at her; 
that his smile faded gradually; that his eyes became fixed 
and thoughtful as if he were reading in a poor light. 

They walked out together into the fine fall day, scuf- 
fling bright ragged leaves under their feet, turning their 
faces up to a generous sky really blue and spotless. At 
the first comer they waited for a funeral to pass, the 
mourners seated straight and firm as if proud in their 

“I imagine I’m late,” said Miranda, “as usual. What 
time is it?” 

“Nearly half past one,” he said, slipping back his 
sleeve with an exaggerated thrust of his ami upward. 
The young soldiers were still self-conscious about their 
wrist watches. Such of them as Miranda knew were boys 
from southern and southwestern towns, far off the At- 
lantic seaboard, and they had always believed that only 
sissies wore wrist watches. “I’ll slap you on the wrist 
watch,” one vaudeville comedian would simper to an- 
other, and it was always a good joke, never stale. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“I think it’s a most sensible way to carry a watcli, ’ 
said Miranda. “You needn’t blush,” 

“I’m nearly used to it,” said Adam, who was from 
Texas, “We’ve been told time and again how all the he- 
manly regular army men wear them. It’s the horrors of 
war,” he said; “are we downhearted? I’ll say we are.” 

It was the kind of patter going the rounds. “You look 
it,” said Miranda. 

He was tall and heavily muscled in the shoulders, nar- 
row in the waist and flanks, and he was infinitely but- 
toned, strapped, harnessed into a uniform as tough and 
unyielding in cut as a strait jacket, though the cloth was 
fine and supple. He had his uniforms made by the best 
tailor he could find, he confided to Miranda one day 
when she told him how squish he was looking in his new 
soldier suit. “Hard enough to make anything of the out- 
fit, anyhow,” he told her. “It’s the least I can do for my 
beloved country, not to go around looking like a tramp.” 
He was twenty-four years old and a Second Lieutenant 
in an Engineers Corps, on leave because his outfit ex- 
pected to be sent over shortly. “Came in to make my 
will,” he told Miranda, “and get a supply of toothbrushes 
and razor blades. By what gorgeous luck do you sup- 
pose,” he asked her, “I happened to pick on your room- 
ing house? How did I know you were there? ” 

Strolling, keeping step, his stout polished well-made 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

boots setting themselves down firmly beside her thin- 
soled black suMe, they put off as long as they could the 
end of their moment together, and kept up as well as 
they could their small talk that flew back and forth over 
little grooves worn in the thin upper surface of the 
brain, things you could say and hear clink reassuringly 
at once without disturbing the radiance which played 
and darted about the simple and lovely miracle of being 
two persons named Adam and Miranda, twenty-four 
years old each, alive and on the earth at the same mo- 
ment: “Are you in the mood for dancing, Miranda?” 
and “I’m always in the mood for dancing, Adam!” but 
there were things in the way, the day that ended with 
dancing was a long way to go. 

He really did look, Miranda thought, like a fine 
healthy apple this morning. One time or another in their 
talking, he had boasted that he had never had a pain in 
his life that he could remember. Instead of being hor- 
rified at this monster, she approved his monstrous unique- 
ness. As for herself, she had had too many pains to men- 
tion, so she did not mention them. After working for 
three years on a morning newspaper she had an illusion 
of maturity and experience; but it was fatigue merely, 
she decided, from keeping what she had been brought 
up to believe were unnatural hours, eating casually at 
dirty little restaurants, drinking bad coffee all night, and 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

smoking too much. When she said something of her way 
of living to Adam, he studied her face a few seconds as 
if he had never seen it before, and said in a forthright 
way, “Why, it hasn’t hurt you a bit, I think you’re 
beautiful,” and left her dangling there, wondering if he 
had thought she wished to be praised. She did wish to 
be praised, but not at that moment. Adam kept unwhole- 
some hours too, or had in the ten days they had known 
each other, staying awake until one o’clock to take her 
out for supper; he smoked also continually, though if 
she did not stop him he was apt to explain to her exactly 
what smoking did to the lungs. “But,” he said, “does it 
matter so much if you’re goiiig to war, anyway?” 

“No,” said Miranda, “and it matters even less if you’re 
staying at home knitting socks. Give me a cigarette, will 
you?” They paused at another corner, under a half- 
foliaged maple, and hardly glanced at a funeral proces- 
sion approaching. His eyes were pale tan with orange 
flecks in them, and his liair was the color of a haystack 
when you turn the weathered top back to the clear 
straw beneath. He fished out his cigarette case and 
snapped his silver lighter at her, snapped it several times 
in his own face, and they moved on, smoking. 

“I can see you knitting socks,” he said. “That would 
be just your speed. You know perfectly well you can’t 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“I do worse,” she said, soberly; “I write pieces advis- 
ing other young women to knit and roll bandages and do 
without sugar and help win the war.” 

“Oh, well,” said Adam, with the easy masculine 
morals in such questions, “that’s merely your job, that 
doesn’t count.” 

“I wonder,” said Miranda. “How did you manage to 
get an extension of leave?” 

“They just gave it,” said Adam, “for no reason. The 
men are dying like flies out there, anyway. This funny 
new disease. Simply knocks you into a cocked hat.” 

“It seems to be a plague,” said Miranda, “something 
out of the Middle Ages. Did you ever see so many fu- 
nerals, ever?” 

“Never did. Well, let’s be strong minded and not have 
any of it. I’ve got four days more straight from the blue 
and not a blade of grass must grow under our feet. What 
about tonight? ” 

“Same thing,” she told him, “but make it about half 
past one. I’ve got a special job beside my usual run of the 

“What a job you’ve got,” said Adam, “nothing to do 
but run from one dizzy amusement to another and then 
write a piece about it.” 

“Yes, it’s too dizzy for words,” said Miranda. They 
stood while a funeral passed, and this time they watched 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

it in silence. Miranda pulled her cap to an angle and 
winked in the sunlight, her head swimming slowly “like 
goldfish,” she told Adam, “my head swims. I’m only half 
awake, I must have some coffee.” 

They lounged on their elbows over the counter of a 
drug store. “No more cream for the stay-at-homes,” she 
said, “and only one lump of sugar. I’ll have two or none; 
that’s the kind of martyr I’m being. I mean to live on 
boiled cabbage and wear shoddy from now on and get 
in good shape for the next round. No war is going to 
sneak up on me again.” 

“Oh, there won’t be any more wars, don’t you read 
the newspapers?” asked Adam. “We’re going to mop 
’em up this time, and they’re going to stay mopped, and 
this is going to be all.” 

“So they told me,” said Miranda, tasting her bitter 
lukewarm brew and making a rueful face. Their smiles 
approved of each other, they felt they had got the right 
tone, they were taking the war properly. Above all, 
thought Miranda, no tooth-gnashing, no hair-tearing, it’s 
noisy and unbecoming and it doesn’t get you anywhere. 

“Swill,” said Adam rudely, pushing back his cup. “Is 
that all you’re having for breakfast?” 

“It’s more than I want,” said Miranda. 

“I had buckwheat cakes, with sausage and maple 
syrup, and two bananas, and two cups of coffee, at eight 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

o’clock, and right now, again, I feel like a famished or- 
phan left in the ashcan. I’m all set,” said Adam, “for 
broiled steak and fried potatoes and—” 

“Don’t go on with it,” said Miranda, “it sounds deliri- 
ous to me. Do all that after I’m gone.” She slipped from 
the high seat, leaned against it slightly, glanced at her 
face in her round mirror, rubbed rouge on her lips and 
decided that she was past praying for. 

“There’s something terribly wrong,” she told Adam. 
“I feel too rotten. It can’t just be the weather, and the 

“The weather is perfect,” said Adam, “and the war is 
simply too good to be true. But since when? You were 
all right yesterday.” 

“I don’t know,” she said slowly, her voice sounding 
small and thin. They stopped as always at the open door 
before the flight of littered steps leading up to the news- 
paper loft. Miranda listened for a moment to tlie rattle of 
typewriters above, the steady rumble of presses below. 
“I wish we were going to spend the whole afternoon on 
a park bench,” she said, “or drive to the mountains.” 

“I do too,” he said; “let’s do that tomorrow.” 

“Yes, tomorrow, unless something else happens. I’d 
like to run away,” she told him; “let’s both.” 

“Me?” said Adam. “Where I’m going there’s no run- 
ning to speak of. You mostly crawl about on your stom- 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

ach here and there among the debris. You know, barbed 
wire and such stuff. It’s going to be the kind of thing 
that happens once in a lifetime.” He reflected a moment, 
and went on, “I don’t know a darned thing about it, 
really, but they make it sound awfully messy. I’ve heard 
so much about it I feel as if I had been there and back. 
It’s going to be an anticlimax,” he said, “like seeing the 
pictures of a place so often you can’t sec it at all when 
you actually get there. Seems to me I’ve been in the 
army all my life.” 

Six months, he meant. Eternity. He looked so clear 
and fresh, and he had never had a pain in his life. She 
had seen them when they had been there and back and 
they never looked like this again. “Already the returned 
hero,” she said, “and don’t I wish you were.” 

“When I learned the use of the bayonet in my first 
training camp,” said i.\dam, “I gouged the vitals out of 
more sandbags and sacks of hay than I could keep track 
of. They kept bawling at us, ‘Get him, get that Boche, 
stick him before he sticks )'ou’— and we’d go for those 
sandbags like wildfire, and honestly, sometimes I felt a 
perfect fool for getting so worked up when I saw the 
sand trickling out. I used to wake up in the night some- 
times feeling silly about it.” 

“I can imagine,” said Miranda. “It’s perfect nonsense.” 
They lingered, unwilling to say good-by. After a little 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

pause, Adam, as if keeping up the conversation, asked, 
“Do you know what the average life expectation of a 
sapping party is after it hits the Job?” 

“Something speedy, I suppose.” 

“Just nine minutes,” said Adam; “I read that in your 
own newspaper not a w’cek ago.” 

“Make it ten and I’ll come along,” said Miranda. 

“Not another second,” said Adam, “exactly nine min- 
utes, take it or leave it.” 

“Stop bragging,” said Miranda. “Who figured that 

“A noncombatant,” said Adam, “a fellow with 

This seemed very comic, they laughed and leaned to- 
wards each other and Afiranda heard herself being a little 
shrill. She wiped the tears from her eyes. “My, it’s a 
funny war,” she said; “isn’t it? I laugh every time I think 
about it.” 

Adam took her hand in both of his and pulled a little 
at the tips of her gloves and sniffed them. “What nice 
perfume you have,” he said, “and such a lot of it, too. 
I like a lot of perfume on gloves and hair,” he said, snif- 
fing again. 

“I’ve got probably too much,” she said. “I can’t smell 
or see or hear today. I must have a fearful cold.” 

“Don’t catch cold,” said Adam; “my leave is nearly 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

up and it will be the last, the very last.” She moved her 
fingers in her gloves as he pulled at the fingers and 
turned her hands as if they were something new and cu- 
rious and of great value, and she turned shy and quiet. 
She liked him, she liked him, and there was more than 
this but it was no good even imagining, because he was 
not for her nor for any woman, being beyond experi- 
ence already, committed without any knowledge or act 
of his own to death. She took back her hands. “Good- 
by,” she said finally, “until tonight.” 

She ran upstairs and looked back from the top. He 
was still watching her, and raised his hand without smil- 
ing. Miranda hardly ever saw anyone look back after he 
had said good-by. She could not help turning sometimes 
for one glimpse more of the person she had been talking 
with, as if that would save too rude and too sudden a 
snapping of even the lightest bond. But people hurried 
away, their faces already changed, fixed, in their strain- 
ing towards their next stopping place, already absorbed 
in planning their next act or encounter. Adam was wait- 
ing as if he expected her to turn, and under his brows 
fixed in a strained frown, his eyes were very black. 

At her desk she sat without taking off jacket or cap, slit- 
ting envelopes and pretending to read the letters. Only 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Chuck Rouncivale, the sports reporter, and Ye Towne 
Gossyp were sitting on her desk today, and them she 
liked having there. She sat on theirs when she pleased. 
Towney and Chuck were talking and they went on 
with it. 

“They say,” said Towney, “that it is really caused by 
genus brought by a German ship to Boston, a camou- 
flaged ship, naturally, it didn’t come in under its own 
colors. Isn’t that ridiculous?” 

“Maybe it was a submarine,” said Chuck, “sneaking in 
from the bottom of the sea in the dead of night. Now 
that sounds better.” 

“Yes, it does,” said Towney; “they always slip up 
somewhere in these details . . . and they think the 
germs were sprayed over the city— it started in Boston, 
you know— and somebody reported seeing a strange, 
thick, cloud float up out of Boston Har- 
bor and spread slowly all over that end of town. I think 
it was an old woman who saw it.” 

“Should have been,” said Chuck. 

“I read it in a New York newspaper,” said Towney; 
“so it’s bound to be true.” 

Chuck and Miranda laughed so loudly at this that Bill 
stood up and glared at them. “Towney still reads the 
newspapers,” explained Chuck. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“Well, what’s funny about that?” asked Bill, sitting 
down again and frowning into the clutter before him. 

“It was a noncombatant saw that cloud,” said Miranda, 

“Naturally,” said Towney, 

“Member of the Lusk Committee, maybe,” said 

“The Angel of Mons,” said Chuck, “or a dollar-a-yeaj 

Miranda wished to stop hearing, and talking, she 
wished to think for just five minutes of her own about 
Adam, really to think about him, but there was no time. 
She had seen him first ten days ago, and since then they 
had been crossing streets together, darting between 
trucks and limousines and pushcarts and farm wagons; 
he had waited for her in doorways and in little restau- 
rants that smelled of stale frying fat; they had eaten and 
danced to the urgent whine and bray of jazz orchestras, 
they had sat in dull theaters because Miranda was there 
to write a piece about the play. Once they had gone to 
the mountains and, leaving the car, had climbed a stony 
trail, and had come out on a ledge upon a flat stone, 
where they sat and watched the lights change on a val- 
ley landscape that was, no doubt, Miranda said, quite 
apocryphal— “We need not believe it, but it is fine 
poetry,” she told him; they had leaned their shoulders 
together there, and had sat quite still, watching. On two 


Pale Horse, Tale Rider 

Sundays they had gone to the geological museum, and 
had pored in shared fascination over bits of meteors, 
rock formations, fossilized tusks and trees, Indian ar- 
rows, grottoes from the silver and gold lodes. “Think 
of those old miners washing out their fortunes in little 
pans beside the streams,” said Adam, “and inside the 
earth there was this—” and he had told her he liked bet- 
ter those things that took long to make; he loved air- 
planes too, all sorts of machinery, things carved out of 
wood or stone. He knew nothing much about them, but 
he recognized them when he saw them. He had con- 
fessed that he simply could not get through a book, any 
kind of book except textbooks on engineering; reading 
bored him to crumbs; he regretted now he hadn’t 
brought his roadster, but he hadn’t thought he would 
need a car; he loved driving, he wouldn’t expect her to 
believe how many hundreds of miles he could get over 
in a day ... he had showed her snapshots of himself 
at the wheel of his roadster; of himself sailing a boat, 
looking very free and windblown, all angles, hauling on 
the ropes; he would have joined the air force, but his 
mother had hysterics every time he mentioned it. She 
didn’t seem to realize that dog fighting in the air was a 
good deal safer than sapping parties on the ground at 
night. But he hadn’t argued, because of course she did 
not realize about sapping parties. And here he was, 


Pale Horse, Pale Eider 

stuck, on a plateau a mile high with no water for a boat 
and his car at home, otherwise they could really have 
had a good time. Miranda knew he was trying to tell her 
what kind of person he was when he had his machinery 
with him. She felt she knew pretty well what kind of 
person he was, and would have liked to tell him that if 
he thought he had left himself at home in a boat or an 
automobile, he was much mistaken. The telephones were 
ringing. Bill was shouting at somebody who kept saying, 
“Well, but listen, well, but listen—” but nobody was go- 
ing to listen, of course, nobody. Old man Gibbons bel- 
lowed in despair, “Jarge, Jarge— ” 

“Just the same,” Towney was saying in her most com- 
placent patriotic voice, “Hut Service is a fine idea, and 
we should all volunteer even if they don’t want us.” 
Towney docs well at this, thought Miranda, look at her; 
remembering the rose-colored sweater and the tight re- 
bellious face in the cloakroom. Towney was now all 
open-faced glory and goodness, willing to sacrifice her- 
self for her country. “After all,” said Towney, “I can 
sing and dance well enough for the Little Theater, and I 
could write their letters for them, and at a pinch I might 
drive an ambulance. I have driven a Ford for years.” 

Miranda joined in: “Well, I can sing and dance too, 
but who’s going to do the bed-making and the scrub- 
bing up? Those huts are hard to keep, and it would be a 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

dirty job and we’d be perfectly miserable; and as I’ve 
got a hard dirty job and am perfectly miserable, I’m 
going to stay at home.” 

“I think the women should keep out of it,” said Chuck 
Rouncivalc. ‘'They just add skirts to the horrors of 
war.” Chuck had bad lungs and fretted a good deal 
about missing the show. “I could liavc been there and 
back with a leg off by now; it would have served the old 
man right. Then he’d either have to buy his own hooch 
or sober up.” 

Miranda had seen Chuck on pay day giving the old 
man money for hooch. He was a good-humored ingrati- 
ating old scoundrel, too, that was the worst of him. He 
slapped his son on the back and beamed upon him with 
the bleared eye of paternal affection while he took his 
last nickel. 

“It was Florence Nightingale ruined wars,” Chuck 
went on. “VV'^hat’s the idea of petting soldiers and bind- 
ing up their wounds and soothing their fevered brows? 
That’s not war. Let ’em perish where they fall. That’s 
what they’re there for.” 

“You can talk,” said Towney, with a slantwise glint 
at him. 

“What’s the idea? ” asked Chuck, flushing and hunch- 
ing his shoulders. “You know I’ve got this lung, or 
maybe half of it anyway by now.” 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“You’re much too sensitive,” said Towney. “I didn’t 
mean a thing.” 

Bill had been raging about, chewing his half-smoked 
cigar, his hair standing up in a brush, his eyes soft and 
lambent but wild, like a stag’s. He would never, thought 
Miranda, be more than fourteen years old if he lived 
for a century, which he would not, at the rate he was 
going. He behaved exactly like city editors in the mov- 
ing pictures, even to the chewed cigar. Had he formed 
his style on the films, or had scenario writers seized once 
for all on the type Bill in its inarguable purity? Bill was 
shouting to Chuck: ^‘And if he comes back here take 
him up the alley and saw his head off by handP' 

Chuck said, “He’ll be back, don’t worry.” Bill said 
mildly, already off on another track, “Well, saw him 
off.” Towney went to her own desk, but Chuck sat 
waiting amiably to be taken to the new vaudeville show. 
Miranda, with two tickets, always invited one of the re- 
porters to go with her on Monday. Chuck was lavishly 
hardboiled and professional in his sports writing, but he 
had told Miranda that he didn’t give a damn about 
sports, really; the job kept him out in the open, and paid 
him enough to buy the old man’s hooch. He preferred 
shows and didn’t see why women always had the job. 

“Who docs Bill want sawed today?” asked Miranda. 

“That hoofer you panned in this morning’s,” said 

21 1 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Chuck. “He was up here bright and early asking for the 
guy that writes up the show business. He said he was 
going to take the goof who wrote that piece up the alley 
and bop him in the nose. He said . . .” 

“I hope he’s gone,” said Miranda; “I do hope he had 
to catch a train.” 

Chuck stood up and arranged his maroon-colored tur- 
tle-necked sweater, glanced down at the peasoup tweed 
plus fours and the hobnailed tan boots which he hoped 
would help to disguise the fact that he had a bad lung 
and didn’t care for sports, and said, “He’s long gone by 
now, don’t worry. Let’s get going; you’re late as usual.” 

Miranda, facing about, almost stepped on the toes of a 
little drab man in a derby hat. He might have been a 
pretty fellow once, but now his mouth drooped where 
he had lost his side teeth, and his sad red-rimmed eyes 
had given up coquetry. A thin brown wave of hair was 
combed out with brilliantine and curled against the rim 
of the derby. He didn’t move his feet, but stood planted 
<vith a kind of inert resistance, and asked Miranda: “Arc 
you the so-called dramatic critic on this hick news- 

“I’m afraid I am,” said Miranda. 

“Well,” said the little man, “I’m just asking for one 
minute of your valuable time.” His underlip shot out, 
he began with shaking hands to fish about in his waist- 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

coat pocket. “I just hate to let you get away with it, 
that’s all.” He riffled through a collection of shabby 
newspaper clippings. “Just give these the once-over, will 
you? And then let me ask you if you think I’m gonna 
stand for being knocked by a tanktown critic,” he said, 
in a toneless voice; “look here, here’s Buffalo, Chicago. 
Saint Looey, Philadelphia, Frisco, besides New York, 
licre’s the best publications in the business. Variety, the 
BillhGard, they all broke down and admitted that Danny 
Dickerson knows his stuff. So you don’t think so, hey? 
That’s all I wanta ask you.” 

“No, I don’t,” said Miranda, as bluntly as she could, 
“and I can’t stop to talk about it.” 

The little man leaned nearer, his voice shook as if he 
had been nervous for a long time. “Look here, what was 
there you didn’t like about me? Tell me that.” 

Miranda said, “You shouldn’t pay any attention at all. 
What docs it matter what I think?” 

“I don’t care what you think, it ain’t that,” said the 
little man, “but these things get round and booking 
agencies back East don’t know how it is out here. We 
get panned in the sticks and they think it’s the same as 
getting panned in Chicago, see? They don’t know the 
difference. They don’t know that the more high class an 
act is the more the hick critics pan it. But I’ve been 
called the best in the business by the best in the busi- 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

ness and I wanta know what you think is wrong with 

Chuck said, “Come on, Miranda, curtain’s going up.” 
Miranda handed the little man his clippings, they were 
mostly ten years old, and tried to edge past him. He 
stepped before her again and said without much convic- 
tion, “If you was a man I’d knock your block off.” 
Chuck got up at that and lounged over, taking his hands 
out of his pockets, and said, “Now you’ve done your 
song and dance you’d better get out. Get the hell out 
now before I throw you downstairs.” 

The little man pulled at the top of his tie, a small blue 
tie with red polka dots, slightly frayed at the knot. He 
pulled it straight and repeated as if he had rehearsed it, 
“Come out in the alley.” The tears filled his thickened 
red lids. Chuck said, “Ah, shut up,” and followed 
Miranda, who was running upwards the stairs. He over- 
took her on the sidewalk. “I left him sniveling and shuf- 
fling his publicity trying to find the joker,” said Chuck, 
“the poor old heel.” 

Miranda said, “There’s too much of everything in this 
world just now. I’d like to sit down here on the curb. 
Chuck, and die, and never again see— I wish I could lose 
my memory and forget my ov\’n name ... I wLsh— ” 

Chuck said, “Toughen up, Miranda. This is no time 
to cave in. Forget that fellow. For every hundred people 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

in show business, there are ninety-nine like him. But you 
don’t manage right, anyway. You bring it on yourself. 
All you have to do is play up the headliners, and you 
needn’t even mention the also-rans. Try to keep in mind 
that Rypinsky has got show business cornered in this 
town; please Rypinsky and you’ll please the advertising 
department, please them and you’ll get a raise. Hand-in- 
glove, my poor dumb child, will you never learn?” 

“I seem to keep learning all the wrong things,” said 
Miranda, hopelessly. 

“You do for a fact,” Chuck told her cheerfully. “You 
are as good at it as I ever saw. Now do you feel better?” 

“This is a rotten show you’ve invited me to,” said 
Chuck. “Now what are you going to do about it? If I 
were writing it up. I’d—” 

“Do write it up,” said iMirandg. “You write it up this 
time. I’m getting ready to leave, anyway, but don’t tell 
anybody yet.” 

“You mean it? All my life,” said Chuck, “I’ve yearned 
to be a so-called dramatic critic on a hick newspaper, 
and this is positively my first chance.” 

“Better take it,” Miranda told him. “It may be your 
last.” She thought, This is the beginning of the end of 
something. Something terrible is going to happen to me. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

I shan’t need bread and butter where I’m going. I’ll will 
it to Chuck, he has a venerable father to buy hooch for. 
I hope they let him have it. Oh, Adam, I hope 1 see you 
once more before I go under with whatever is the mat- 
ter with me. “I wish the war were over,” she said to 
Chuck, as if they had been talking about that. “I wish 
it were over and I wish it had never begun.” 

Chuck had got out his pad and pencil and was already 
writing his review. What she had said seemed safe 
enough but how would he take it? “I don’t care how it 
started or when it ends,” said Chuck, scribbling away, 
“I’m not going to be there.” 

All the rejected men talked like that, thought Miranda. 
War was the one thing they wanted, now they couldn’t 
have it. Maybe they had wanted badly to go, some of 
them. All of them had a sidelong eye for the women 
they talked with about it, a guarded resentment which 
said, “Don’t pin a whitjp feather on me, you bloodthirsty 
female. I’ve offered my meat to the crows and they 
won’t have it.” The worst thing about war for the stay- 
at-homes is there isn’t anyone to talk to any more. The 
Lusk Committee will get you if you don’t watch out. 
Bread will win the war. Work will win, sugar will win, 
peach pits will win the war. Nonsense. Not nonsense, I 
tell you, there’s some kind of valuable high explosive to 
be got out of peach pits. So all the happy housewives 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

hurry during the canning season to lay their baskets of 
peach pits on the altar of their country. It keeps them 
busy and makes them feel useful, and all these women 
running wild with the men away are dangerous, if they 
aren’t given something to keep their little minds out of 
mischief. So rows of young girls, the intact cradles of the 
future, with their pure serious faces framed becomingly 
in Red Cross wimples, roll cock-eyed bandages that will 
never reach a base hospital, and knit sweaters that will 
never warm a manly chest, their minds dwelling lov- 
ingly on all the blood and mud and the next dance at 
the Acanthus Club for the officers of the flying corps. 
Keeping still and quiet will win the war. 

“I’m simply not going to be there,” said Chuck, ab- 
sorbed in his review. No, Adam will be there, thought 
Miranda. She slipped down in the chair and leaned her 
head against the dusty plush, closed her eyes and faced 
for one instant that was a lifetime the certain, the over- 
whelming and awful knowledge that there was nothing 
at all ahead for Adam and for her. Nothing. She opened 
her eyes and held her hands together palms up, gazing 
at them and trying to understand oblivion. 

“Now look at this,” said Chuck, for the lights had 
come on and the audience was ru.stling and talking again. 
“I've got it all done, even before the headliner comes 
on. It’s old Stella Mayhew, and she’s always good, she’s 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

been good for forty years, and she’s going to sing ‘O the 
blues ain’t nothin’ but the easy-going heart disease.’ 
That’s all you need to know about her. Now just glance 
over this. Would you be willing to sign it?” 

Miranda took the pages and stared at them conscien- 
tiously, turning them over, she hoped, at the right mo- 
ment, and gave them back. “Yes, Chuck, yes. I’d sign 
that. But I won’t. We must tell Bill you wrote it, because 
it’s your start, maybe.” 

“You don’t half appreciate it,” said Chuck. “You read 
It too fast. Here, listen to this—” and he began to mutter 
excitedly. While he was reading she watched his face. 
It was a pleasant face with some kind of spark of life in 
it, and a good severity in the modeling of the brow 
above the nose. For the first time since she had known 
him she wondered what Chuck was thinking about. He 
looked preoccupied and unhappy, he wasn’t so frivolous 
as he sounded. The people were crowding into the aisle, 
bringing out their cigarette cases ready to strike a match 
the instant they reached the lobby; women with waved 
hair clutched at their wraps, men stretched their chins 
to ease them of their stiff collars, and Chuck said, “We 
might as well go now.” Miranda, buttoning her jacket, 
stepped into the moving crowd, thinking. What did I 
ever know about them? There must be a great many of 
them here who think as I do, and we dare not say a word 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

to each other of our desperation, we are speechless ani- 
mals letting ourselves be destroyed, and why? Does any- 
body here believe the things we say to each other? 

Stretched in unease on the ridge of the wicker couch 
in the cloakroom, Miranda waited for time to pass and 
leave Adam with her. Time seemed to proceed with 
more than usual eccentricity, leaving twilight gaps in 
her mind for thirty minutes which seemed like a second, 
and then hard dashes of light that shone clearly on her 
watch proving that three minutes is an intolerable stretch 
of waiting, as if she were hanging by her thumbs. At 
last it was reasonable to imagine Adam stepping out of 
the house in the early darkness into the blue mist that 
might soon be rain, he would be on the way, and there 
was nothing to think about him, after all. There was 
only the wish to see him and the fear, the present threat, 
of not seeing him again; for every step they took to- 
wards each other seemed perilous, drawing them apart 
instead of together, as a swimmer in spite of his most 
determined strokes is yet drawn slowly backward by 
the tide. “I don’t want to love,” she would think in spite 
of herself, “not Adam, there is no time and we are not 
ready for if and yet this is all we have—” 

And there he was on the sidewalk, with his foot on 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

the first step, and Miranda almost ran down to meet 
him. Adam, holding her hands, asked, “Do you feel well 
now? Are you hungry? Arc you tired? Will you feel 
like dancing after the show?” 

“Yes to everything,” said Miranda, “yes, yes. . . .” 
Her head was like a feather, and she steadied herself on 
his arm. The mist was still mist that might be rain later, 
and though the air M'as sharp and clean in her mouth, it 
did not, she decided, make breathing any easier. “I hope 
the show is good, or at least funny,” she told him, “but I 
promise nothing.” 

It was a long, dreary play, but Adam and Miranda 
sat very quietly together waiting patiently for it to be 
over. Adam carefully and seriously pulled off her glove 
and held her hand as if he were accustomed to holding 
her hand in theaters. Once they turned and their eyes 
met, but only once, and the two pairs of eyes were 
equally steady and noncommittal. A deep tremor set up 
in Miranda, and she set about resisting herself method- 
ically as if she were closing windows and doors and 
fastening down curtains against a rising stonii. Adam 
sat watching the monotonous play with a strange shining 
excitement, his face quite fixed and still. 

When the curtain rose for tlic third act, the third 
act did not take place at once. There was instead dis- 
closed a backdrop almost covered with an American flag 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

improperly and disrespectfully exposed, nailed at each 
upper comer, gathered in the middle and nailed again, 
sagging dustily. Before it posed a local dollar-a-year 
man, now doing his bit as a Liberty Bond salesman. He 
was an ordinary man past middle life, with a neat little 
melon buttoned into his trousers and waistcoat, an opin- 
ionated tight mouth, a face and figure in which nothing 
could be read save the inept sensual record of fifty years. 
But for once in his life he was an important fellow in an 
impressive situation, and he reveled, rolling his words 
in an actorish tone. 

“Looks like a penguin,” said Adam. They moved, 
smiled at each other, Miranda reclaimed her hand, Adam 
folded his together and they prepared to wear their way 
again through the same old moldy speech with the same 
old dusty backdrop. Miranda tried not to listen, but she 
heard. These vile Huns— glorious Belleau Wood— our 
keyword is Sacrifice— Martyred Belgium— give till it hurts 
—our noble boys Over There— Big Berthas— the death of 
civilization— the Boche— 

“My head aches,” whispered Miranda. “Oh, why 
won’t he hush?” 

“He won’t,” whispered Adam. “I’ll get you some 

“In Flanders Field the poppies grow. Between the 
crosses row on row”— “He’s getting into the home 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

stretch,” whispered Adam— atrocities, innocent babes 
hoisted on Boche bayonets— your child and my child— if 
our children are spared these things, then let us say with 
all reverence that these dead have not died in vain— the 
war, the war, the war to end war, war for Democracy, 
for humanity, a safe world forever and ever— and to 
prove our faith in Democracy to each other, and to the 
world, let everybody get together and buy Liberty 
Bonds and do without sugar and wool socks— was that 
it? jMiranda asked herself. Say that over, I didn’t catch 
the last line. Did you mention Adam? If you didn’t I’m 
not interested. What about Adam, you little pig? And 
what are we going to sing this time, “Tipperary” or 
“There’s a Long, Long Trail”? Oh, please do let the 
show go on and get over with. I must write a piece 
about it before I can go dancing with Adam and we 
have no time. Coal, oil, iron, gold, international finance, 
why don’t you tell us about them, you little liar? 

The audience rose and sang, “There’s a Long, Long 
Trail A- winding,” their opened mouths black and faces 
pallid in the reflected footlights; some of the faces gri- 
maced and wept and had shining streaks like snail’s 
tracks on them. Adam and Miranda Joined in at the 
tops of their voices, grinning shamefacedly at each other 
once or twice. 

In the street, they lit their cigarettes and walked 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

slowly as always. “Just another nasty old man who 
would like to see the young ones killed,” said Miranda 
in a low voice; “the tomcats try to eat the little tom- 
kittens, you know. They don’t fool you really, do they, 

The young people were talking like that about the 
business by then. They felt they were seeing pretty 
clearly through that game. She went on, “I hate these 
potbellied baldheads, too fat, too old, too cowardly, to 
go to war themselves, they know they’re safe; it’s you 
they are sending instead—” 

Adam turned eyes of genuine surprise upon her. “Oh, 
that one,” he said. “Now what could the poor sap do 
if they did take him? It’s not his fault,” he explained, 
“he can’t do anything but talk.” His pride in his youth, 
his forbearance and tolerance and contempt for that un- 
lucky being breathed out of his very pores as he strolled, 
straight and relaxed in his strength. “^Vhat could you 
expect of him, Miranda?” 

She spoke his name often, and he spoke hers rarely. 
The little shock of pleasure the sound of her name in 
his mouth gave her stopped her ans\\ er. For a moment 
she hesitated, and began at another point of attack. 
“Adam,” she said, “the worst of war is the fear and sus- 
picion and the awful expression in all the eyes you meet 
... as if they had pulled down the shutters over their 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

minds and their hearts and were peering out at you, 
ready to leap if you make one gesture or say one word 
they do not understand instantly. It frightens me; I live 
in fear too, and no one should have to live in fear. It’s 
the skulking about, and the lying. It’s what war does to 
the mind and the heart, Adam, and you can’t separate 
these two— what it does to them is worse than what it 
can do to the body.” 

Adam said soberly, after a moment, “Oh, yes, but 
suppose one comes back whole? The mind and the heart 
sometimes get another chance, but if anything happens 
to the poor old human frame, why, it’s just out of luck, 
that’s all.” 

“Oh, yes,” mimicked Miranda. “It’s just out of luck, 
that’s all.” 

“If I didn’t go,” said Adam, in a matter-of-fact voice, 
“I couldn’t look myself in the face.” 

So that’s all settled. With her fingers flattened on his 
arm, Miranda was silent, thinking about Adam. No, 
there was no resentment or revolt in him. Pure, she 
thought, all the way through, flawless, complete, as the 
sacrificial lamb must be. The sacrificial lamb strode 
along casually, accommodating his long pace to hers, 
keeping her on the inside of the walk in the good Ameri- 
can style, helping her across street corners as if she were 
a cripple— “I hope we don’t come to a mud puddle. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

he’ll carry me over it”— giving off whiffs of tobacco 
smoke, a manly smell of scentless soap, freshly cleaned 
leather and freshly washed skin, breathing through his 
nose and carrying his chest easily. He threw back his 
head and smiled into the sky which still misted, promis- 
ing rain. “Oh, boy,” he said, “what a night. Can’t you 
hurry that review of yours so we can get started?” 

He waited for her before a cup of coffee in the restau- 
rant next to the pressroom, nicknamed The Greasy 
Spoon. When she came down at last, freshly washed and 
combed and powdered, she saw Adam first, sitting near 
the dingy big window, face turned to the street, but 
looking down. It was an extraordinary face, smooth and 
fine and golden in the shabby light, but now set in a 
blind melancholy, a look of pained suspense and disillu- 
sion. For just one split second she got a glimpse of Adam 
when he would have been older, the face of the man he 
would not live to be. He saw her then, rose, and the 
bright glow was there. 

Adam pulled their chairs together at their table; they 
drank hot tea and listened to the orchestra jazzing “Pack 
Up Your Troubles.” 

“In an old kit bag, and smoil, smoil, smoil,” shouted 
half a dozen boys under the draft age, gathered around 


Fale Horse, Pale Rider 

a table near the orchestra. They yelled incoherently, 
laughed in great hysterical bursts of something that ap- 
peared to be merriment, and passed around under the 
tablecloth flat bottles containing a clear liquid— for in 
this western city founded and built by roaring drunken 
miners, no one was allowed to take his alcohol openly- 
splashed it into their tumblers of ginger ale, and went on 
singing, “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary.” When the 
tune changed to “Madelon,” Adam said, “Let’s dance.” 
It was a tawdry little place, crowded and hot and full 
of smoke, but there was nothing better. The music was 
gay; and life is completely crazy anyway, thought 
Miranda, so what does it matter? This is what we have, 
Adam and I, this is all we’re going to get, this is the way 
it is with us. She wanted to say, “Adam, come out of 
your dream and listen to me. I have pains in my chest 
and my head and my heart and they’re real. I am in 
pain all over, and you are in such danger as I can’t bear 
to think about, and why can we not save each other?” 
When her hand tightened on his shoulder his arm tight- 
ened about her waist instantly, and stayed there, holding 
firmly. They said nothing but smiled continually at each 
other, odd changing smiles as though they had found a 
new language. Miranda, her face near Adam’s shoulder, 
noticed a dark young pair sitting at a corner table, each 
with an arm around the waist of the other, their heads 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

together, their eyes staring at the same thing, whatever 
it was, that hovered in space before them. Her right 
hand lay on the table, his hand over it, and her face was 
a blur with weeping. Now and then he raised her hand 
and kissed it, and set it down and held it, and her eyes 
would fill again. They were not shameless, they had 
merely forgotten where they were, or they had no other 
place to go, perhaps. They said not a word, and the 
small pantomime repeated itself, like a melancholy short 
film running monotonously over and over again. Mi- 
randa envied them. She envied that girl. At least she 
can weep if that helps, and he does not even have to 
ask. What is the matter? Tell me. They had cups of 
coffee before them, and after a long while— Miranda and 
Adam had danced and sat down again twice— when the 
coffee was quite cold, they drank it suddenly, then em- 
braced as before, without a word and scarcely a glance 
at each other. Something was done and settled between 
them, at least; it was enviable, enviable, that they could 
sit quietly together and have the same expression on 
their faces while they looked into the hell they shared, 
no matter what kind of hell, it was theirs, they were to- 

At the table nearest Adam and Miranda a young 
woman was leaning on her elbow, telling her young man 
a story. “And I don’t like him because he’s too fresh. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

He kept on asking me to take a drink and I kept telling 
him, I don’t drink and he said, Now look here, I want a 
drink the worst way and I think it’s mean of you not 
to drink with me, I can’t sit up here and drink by my- 
self, he said. I told him. You’re not by yourself in the 
first place; I like that, I said, and if you want a drink 
go ahead and have it, I told him, why drag vie in? So he 
called the waiter and ordered ginger ale and two glasses 
and I drank straight ginger ale like I always do but he 
poured a shot of hooch in his. He was awfully proud 
of that hooch, said he made it himself out of potatoes. 
Nice homemade likker, warm from the pipe, he told 
me, three drops of this and your ginger ale will taste 
like Mumm’s Extry. But I said. No, and I mean no, can’t 
you get that through your bean? He took another drink 
and said. Ah, come on, honey, don’t be so stubborn, 
this’ll make your shimmy shake. So I just got tired of the 
argument, and I said, I don’t need to drink, to shake my 
shimmy, I can strut my stuff on tea, I said. Well, why 
don’t you then, he wanted to know, and I Just told 

She knew she had been asleep for a long time when all 
at once without even a warning footstep or creak of 
the door hinge, Adam was in the room turning on the 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

light, and she knew it was he, though at first she was 
blinded and turned her head away. He came over at 
once and sat on the side of the bed and began to talk 
as if he were going on with something they had been 
talking about before. lie crumpled a square of paper 
and tossed it in the fireplace. 

“You didn’t get my note,” he said. “I left it under the 
door. I was called back suddenly to camp for a lot of in- 
oculations. They kept me longer than I expected, I was 
late. I called the office and they told me you were not 
coming in today. I called Miss Hobbe here and she said 
you were in bed and couldn’t come to the telephone. 
Did she give you my message?” 

“No,” said Miranda drowsily, “but I think I have 
been asleep all day. Oh, I do remember. There was a 
doctor here. Bill sent him. I was at the telephone once, 
for Bill told me he would send an ambulance and have 
me taken to the hospital. The doctor tapped my chest 
and left a prescription and said he would be back, but he 
hasn’t come.” 

“Where is it, the prescription?” asked Adam. 

“I don’t know. He left it, though, I saw him.” 

Adam moved about searching the tables and the man- 
telpiece. “Here it is,” he said. “I’ll be back in a few 
minutes. I must look for an all-night drug store. It’s after 
one o’clock. Good-by.” 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Good-by, good-by. Miranda watched the door where 
he had disappeared for quite a while, then closed her 
eyes, and thought, When I am not here I cannot remem- 
ber anything about this room where I have lived for 
nearly a year, except that the curtains are too thin and 
there was never any way of shutting out the morning 
light. Miss Hobbe had promised heavier curtains, but they 
had never appeared When Miranda in her dressing gown 
had been at the telephone that morning. Miss Hobbe 
had passed through, carrying a tray. She was a little red- 
haired nervously friendly creature, and her manner said 
all too plainly that the place was not paying and she 
was on the ragged edge. 

“My dear child,” she said sharply, with a glance at 
Miranda’s attire, “what is the matter?” 

Miranda, with the receiver to her ear, said, “Influenza, 
I think.” 

“Horrors,” said Miss Hobbe, in a whisper, and the 
tray wavered in her hands. “Go back to bed at once 
... go at oncer 

“I must talk to Bill first,” Miranda had told her, and 
Miss Hobbe had hurried on and had not returned. Bill 
had shouted directions at her, promising everything, 
doctor, nurse, ambulance, hospital, her check every week 
as usual, everything, but she was to get back to bed and 
stay rfiere. She dropped into bed, thinking that Bill was 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

the only person she had ever seen who actually tore his 
own hair when he was excited enough ... I suppose 
I should ask to be sent home, she thought, it’s a respect- 
able old custom to inflict your death on the family if 
you can manage it. No, I’ll stay here, this is my busi- 
ness, but not in this room, I hope ... I wish I were in 
the cold mountains in the snow, that’s what I should like 
best; and all about her rose the measured ranges of the 
Rockies wearing their perpetual snow, their majestic 
blue laurels of cloud, chilling her to the bone with their 
sharp breath. Oh, no, I must have warmth— and her 
memory turned and roved after another place she had 
known first and loved best, that now she could see only 
in drifting fragments of palm and cedar, dark shadows 
and a sky that warmed without dazzling, as this strange 
sky had dazzled without warming her; there was the 
long slow wavering of gray moss in the drowsy oak 
shade, the spacious hovering of buzzards overhead, the 
smell of crushed water herbs along a bank, and with- 
out warning a broad tranquil river into which flowed 
all the rivers she had known. The walls shelved away 
in one deliberate silent movement on either side, and a 
tall sailing ship was moored near by, with a gangplank 
weathered to blackness touching the foot of her bed. 
Back of the ship was jungle, and even as it appeared be- 
fore her, she knew it was all she had ever read or had 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

been told or felt or thought about jungles; a writhing 
terribly alive and secret place of death, creeping with 
tangles of spotted serpents, rainbow-colored birds with 
malign eyes, leopards with humanly wise faces and ex- 
travagantly crested lions; screaming long-armed mon- 
keys tumbling among broad fleshy leaves that glowed 
with sulphur-colored light and exuded the ichor of 
death, and rotting trunks of unfamiliar trees sprawled 
in crawling slime. Without surprise, watching from her 
pillow, she saw herself run swiftly down this gangplank 
to the slanting deck, and standing there, she leaned on 
the rail and waved gaily to herself in bed, and the slender 
ship spread its wings and sailed away into the jungle. 
The air trembled with the shattering scream and the 
hoarse bellow of voices all crying together, rolling and 
colliding above her like ragged stormclouds, and the 
words became two words only rising and falling and 
clamoring about her head. Danger, danger, danger, the 
voices said, and War, war, war. There was her door half 
open, Adam standing with his hand on the knob, and 
Miss Hobbe with her face all out of shape with terror 
was crying shrilly, “I tell you, they must come for her 
now, or I’ll put her on the sidewalk ... I tell you, this 
is a plague, a plague, my God, and I’ve got a houseful 
of people to think about!” 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Adam said, “I know that. They’ll come for her to- 
morrow morning.” 

“Tomorrow morning, my God, they’d better come 
now! ’ 

“They can’t get an ambulance,” said Adam, “and 
there aren’t any beds. And we can’t find a doctor or a 
nurse. They’re all busy. That’s all there is to it. You 
stay out of the room, and I’ll look after her.” 

“Yes, you’ll look after her, I can see that,” said Miss 
Hobbe, in a particularly unpleasant tone. 

“Yes, that’s what I said,” answered Adam, drily, “and 
you keep out.” 

He closed the door carefully. He was carrying an as- 
sortment of misshapen packages, and his face was as- 
tonishingly impassive. 

“Did you hear that?” he asked, leaning over and 
speaking very quietly. 

“Most of it,” said Miranda, “it’s a nice prospect, isn’t 

“I’ve got your medicine,” said Adam, “and you’re to 
begin with it this minute. She can’t put you out.” 

“So it’s really as bad as that,” said Miranda. 

“It’s as bad as anything can be,” said Adam, “all the 
theaters and nearly all the shops and restaurants are 
closed, and the streets have been full of funerals all day 
and ambulances all night—” 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“But not one for me,” said Miranda, feeling hilarious 
and lightheaded. She sat up and beat her pillow into 
shape and reached for her robe. “I’m glad you’re here, 
I’ve been having a nightmare. Give me a cigarette, will 
you, and light one for yourself and open all the windows 
and sit near one of them. You’re running a risk,” she 
told him, “don’t you know that? Why do you do it?” 

“Never mind,” said Adam, “take your medicine,” and 
offered her two large cherry-colored pills. She swal- 
lowed them promptly and instantly vomited them up. 
“Do excuse me,” she said, beginning to laugh. “I’m so 
sorry.” Adam without a word and with a very con- 
cerned expression washed her face with a wet towel, 
gave her some cracked ice from one of the packages, and 
firmly offered her two more pills. “That’s what they 
always did at home,” she explained to him, “and it 
worked.” Crushed with humiliation, she put her hands 
over her face and laughed again, painfully. 

“There are two more kinds yet,” said Adam, pulling 
her hands from her face and lifting her chin. “You’ve 
hardly begun. And I’ve got other things, like orange 
juice and ice cream— they told me to feed you ice cream 
—and coffee in a thermos bottle, and a thermometer. 
You have to work through the whole lot so you’d better 
take it easy.” 

“This time last night we were dancing,” said Miranda, 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

and drank something from a spoon. Her eyes followed 
him about the room, as he did things for her with an 
absent-minded face, like a man alone; now and again 
he would come back, and slipping his hand under her 
head, would hold a cup or a tumbler to her mouth, and 
she drank, and followed him with her eyes again, with- 
out a clear notion of what was happening. 

“Adam,” she said, “I’ve just thought of something. 
Maybe they forgot St. Luke’s Hospital. Call the sisters 
there and ask them not to be so selfish with their silly 
old rooms. Tell them I only want a very small dark ugly 
one for three days, or less. Do try them, Adam.” 

He believed, apparently, that she was still more or 
less in her right mind, for she heard him at the telephone 
explaining in his deliberate voice. He was back again 
almost at once, saying, “This seems to be my day for 
getting mixed up with peevish old maids. The sister said 
that even if they had a room you couldn’t have it with- 
out doctor’s orders. But they didn’t have one, anyway. 
She was pretty sour about it.” 

“Well,” said Miranda in a thick voice, “I think that’s 
ibominably rude and mean, don’t you?” She sat up with 
a wide gesture of both arms, and began to retch again, 

“Hold it, as you were,” called Adam, fetching the 
basin. He held her head, washed her face and hands 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

with ice water, put her head straight on the pillow, and 
went over and looked out of the window. “Well,” he 
said at last, sitting beside her again, “they haven’t got a 
room. They haven’t got a bed. They haven’t even got a 
baby crib, the way she talked. So I think that’s straight 
enough, and we may as well dig in.” 

“Isn’t the ambulance coming?” 

“Tomorrow, maybe.” 

He took off his tunic and hung it on the back of a 
chair. Kneeling before the fireplace, he began carefully 
to set kindling sticks in the shape of an Indian tepee, 
with a little paper in the center for them to lean upon. 
He lighted this and placed other sticks upon them, and 
larger bits of wood. When they were going nicely he 
added still heavier wood, and coal a few lumps at a time, 
until there was a good blaze, and a fire that would not 
need rekindling. He rose and dusted his hands together, 
the fire illuminated him from the back and his hair 

“Adam,” said Miranda, “I think you’re very beau- 
tiful.” He laughed out at this, and shook his head at her. 
“What a hell of a word,” he said, “for me.” “It was the 
first that occurred to me,” she said, drawing up on her 
elbow to catch the warmth of the blaze. “That’s a good 
job, that fire.” 

He sat on the bed again, dragging up a chair and put- 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

ting his feet on the rungs. They smiled at each other 
for the first time since he had come in that night. “How 
do you feel now?” he asked. 

“Better, much better,” she told him. “Let’s talk. Let’s 
tell each other what we meant to do.” 

“You tell me first,” said Adam. “I want to know about 

“You’d get the notion I had a very sad life,” she said, 
“and perhaps it was, but I’d be glad enough to have it 
now. If I could have it back, it would be easy to be 
happy about almost anything at all. That’s not true, but 
that’s the way I feel now.” After a pause, she said, 
“There’s nothing to tell, after all, if it ends now, for all 
this time I was getting ready for something that was 
going to happen later, when the time came. So now it’s 
nothing much.” 

“But it must have been worth having until now, 
wasn’t it?” he asked seriously as if it were something 
important to know. 

“Not if this is all,” she repeated obstinately. 

“Weren’t you ever— happy?” asked Adam, and he was 
plainly afraid of the word; he was shy of it as he was 
of the word love, he seemed never to have spoken it be- 
fore, and was uncertain of its sound or meaning. 

“I don’t know,” she said, “I just lived and never 


Fale Horse, Pale Rider 

thought about it. I remember things I liked, though, and 
things I hoped for.” 

“I was going to be an electrical engineer,” said Adam. 
He stopped short. “And I shall finish up when I get 
back,” he added, after a moment. 

“Don’t you love being alive?” asked Miranda. “Don’t 
you love weather and the colors at different times of 
the day, and all the sounds and noises like children 
screaming in the next lot, and automobile horns and 
little bands playing in the street and the smell of food 

“I love to swim, too,” said Adam. 

“So do I,” said Miranda; “we never did swim to- 

“Do you remember any prayers?” she asked him sud- 
denly. “Did you ever learn anything at Sunday School? ” 

“Not much,” confessed Adam without contrition. 
“Well, the Lord’s Prayer.” 

“Yes, and there’s Hail Mary,” she said, “and the really 
useful one beginning, I confess to Almighty God and to 
blessed Mary ever virgin and to the holy Apostles Peter 
and Paul—” 

“Catholic,” he commented. 

“Prayers just the same, you big Methodist. I’ll bet you 
are a Methodist.” 

“No, Presbyterian.” 


Tale Horse, Pale Rider 


“Well, what others do you remember?” 

“Now I lay me down to sleep—” said Adam. 

“Yes, that one, and Blessed Jesus meek and mild— you 
see that my religious education wasn’t neglected either. I 
even know a prayer beginning O Apollo. Want ttf 
hear it?” 

“No,” said Adam, “you’re making fun.” 

“I’m not,” said Miranda, “I’m trying to keep from 
going to sleep. I’m afraid to go to sleep, I may not wake 
up. Don’t let me go to sleep, Adam. Do you know Mat- 
thew, Mark, Luke and John? Bless the bed I lie upon?” 

“If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my 
soul to take. Is that it?” asked Adam. “It doesn’t sound 
right, somehow.” 

“Light me a cigarette, please, and move over and sit 
near the window. We keep forgetting about fresh air. 
You must have it.” He lighted the cigarette and held it 
to her lips. She took it between her fingers and dropped 
it under the edge of her pillow. He found it and crushed 
it out in the saucer under the water tumbler. Her head 
swam in darkness for an instant, cleared, and she sat up 
in panic, throwing off the covers and breaking into a 
sweat. Adam leaped up with an alarmed face, and al- 
most at once was holding a cup of hot coffee to her 

“You must have some too,” she told him. quiet again, 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

and they sat huddled together on the edge of the bed, 
drinking coffee in silence. 

Adam said, “You must lie down again. You’re awake 

“Let’s sing,” said Miranda. ‘ I know an old spiritual, 

I can remember some of the wcrds.” She spoke in a nat- 
ural voice. “I’m fine now.” She began in a hoarse whis- 
per, “ ‘Pale horse, pale rider, done taken my lover away 
. . .’ Do you know that song?” 

“Yes,” said Adam, “I heard Negroes in Texas sing it, 
in an oil field.” 

“I heard them sing it in a cotton field,” she said; “it’s 
a good song.” 

They sang that line together. “But I can’t remember 
what comes next,” said Adam. 

“ ‘Pale horse, pale rider,’ ” said Miranda, “(We really 
need a good banjo) ‘done taken my lover away—’ ” Her 
voice cleared and she said, “But we ought to get on 
with it. What’s the next line?” 

“There’s a lot more to it than that,” said Adam, 
“about forty verses, the rider done taken away mammy, 
pappy, brother, sister, the whole family besides the 

“But not the singer, not yet,” said Miranda. “Death 
always leaves one singer to mourn. ‘Death,’ ” she sang, 
“ ‘oh, leave one singer to mourn—’ ” 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“ ‘Pale horse, pale rider,’ ” chanted Adam, coming in 
on the beat, ‘“done taken my lover away!’ (I think 
we’re good, I think we ought to get up an act—)” 

‘‘Go in Hut Service,” said Miranda, “entertain the 
poor defenseless heroes Over There.” 

“We’ll play banjos,” said Adam; “I always wanted to 
play the banjo.” 

Miranda sighed, and lay back on the pillow and 
thought, I must give up, I can’t hold out any longer. 
There was only that pain, only that room, and only 
Adam. There were no longer any multiple planes of liv- 
ing, no tough filaments of memory and hope pulling taut 
backwards and forwards holding her upright between 
them. There was only this one moment and it was a 
dream of time, and Adam’s face, very near hers, eyes 
still and intent, was a shadow, and there was to be noth- 
ing more. . . . 

“Adam,” she said out of the heavy soft darkness that 
drew her down, down, “I love you, and I was hoping 
you would say that to me, too.” 

He lay down beside her with his arm under her shoul- 
der, and pressed his smooth face against hers, his mouth 
moved towards her mouth and stopped. “Can you hear 
what I am saying? . . . What do you think I have been 
trying to tell you all this time?” 

She turned towards him, the cloud cleared and she 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

saw his face for an instant. He pulled the covers about 
her and held her, and said, “Go to sleep, darling, darling, 
if you will go to sleep now for one hour I will wake you 
up and bring you hot coffee and tomorrow we will find 
somebody to help. I love you, go to sleep—” 

Almost with no warning at all, she floated into the 
darkness, holding his hand, in sleep that was not sleep 
but clear evening light in a small green wood, an angry 
dangerous wood full of inhuman concealed voices sing- 
ing sharply like the whine of arrows and she saw Adam 
transfixed by a flight of these singing arrows that struck 
him in the heart and passed shrilly cutting their path 
through the leaves. Adam fell straight back before her 
eyes, and rose again unwounded and alive; another flight 
of arrows loosed from the invisible bow struck him 
again and he fell, and yet he was there before her un- 
touched in a perpetual death and resurrection. She threw 
herself before him, angrily and selfishly she interposed 
between him and the track of the arrow, crying, No, 
no, like a child cheated in a game. It’s my turn now, 
why must you always be the one to die? and the arrows 
struck her cleanly through the heart and through his 
body and he lay dead, and she still lived, and the wood 
whistled and sang and shouted, every branch and leaf 
and blade of grass had its own terrible accusing voice. 
She ran then, and Adam caught her in the middle of 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

the room, running, and said, “Darling, I must have been 
asleep too. What happened, you screamed terribly?” 

After he had helped her to settle again, she sat with 
her knees drawn up under her chin, resting her head on 
her folded arms and began carefully searching for her 
words because it was important to explain clearly. “It 
was a very odd sort of dream, I don’t know why it could 
have frightened me. There was something about an old- 
fashioned valentine. There were two hearts carved on a 
tree, pierced by the same arrow— you know, Adam—” 
“Yes, I know, honey,” he said in the gentlest sort of 
way, and sat kissing her on the cheek and forehead with 
a kind of accustomedness, as if he had been kissing her 
for years, “one of those lace paper things.” 

“Yes, and yet they were alive, and were us, you un- 
derstand— this doesn’t seem to be quite the way it was, 
but it was something like that. It was in a wood—” 
“Yes,” said Adam. He got up and put on his tunic 
and gathered up the thermos bottle. “I’m going back to 
that little stand and get us some ice cream and hot 
coffee,” he told her, “and I’ll be back in five minutes, 
and you keep quiet. Good-by for five minutes,” he said, 
holding her chin in the palm of his hand and trying to 
catch her eye, “and you be very quiet.” 

“Good-by,” she said. “I’m awake again.” But she was 
not, and the two alert young internes from the County 


Fale Horse, Pale Rider 

hospital who had arrived, after frantic urgings from the 
noisy city editor of the Blue Mountain Neivs, to carry 
her away in a police ambulance, decided that they had 
better go down and get the stretcher. Their voices 
roused her, she sat up, got out of bed at once and stood 
glancing about brightly. “Why, you’re all right,” said 
the darker and stouter of the two young men, both ex- 
tremely fit and competent-looking in their white clothes, 
each with a flower in his buttonhole. “I’ll just carry 
you.” He unfolded a white blanket and wrapped it 
around her. She gathered up the folds and asked, “But 
where is Adam?” taking hold of the doctor’s arm. He 
laid a hand on her drenched forehead, shook his head, 
and gave her a shrewd look. “Adam?” 

“Yes,” Miranda told him, lowering her voice confi- 
dentially, “he was here and now he is gone.” 

“Oh, he’ll be back,” the interne told her easily, “he’s 
just gone round the block to get cigarettes. Don’t worry 
about Adam. He’s the least of your troubles.” 

“Will he know where to find me?” she asked, still 
holding back. 

“We’ll leave him a note,” said the interne. “Come 
now, it’s time we got out of here.” 

He lifted and swung up to his shoulder. “I feel 
very badly,” she told him; “I don’t know why.” 

“I’ll bet you do,” said he, stepping out carefully, the 

Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

other doctor going before them, and feeling for the first 
step of the stairs. “Put your arms around my neck,” he 
instructed her. “It won’t do you any harni and it’s a 
great help to me.” 

“What’s your name?” Miranda asked as the other doc- 
tor opened the front door and they stepped out into the 
frosty sweet air. 

“Hildesheim,” he said, in the tone of one humoring 
a child. 

“Well, Dr. Hildesheim, aren’t we in a pretty mess?” 

“We certainly are,” said Dr. Hildesheim. 

The second young interne, still quite fresh and dapper 
in his white coat, though his carnation was withering 
at the edges, was leaning over listening to her breathing 
through a stethoscope, whistling thinly, “There’s a Long, 
Long Trail—” From time to time he tapped her ribs 
smartly with two fingers, whistling. Miranda observed 
him for a few moments until she fixed his bright busy 
hazel eye not four inches from hers. “I’m not uncon- 
scious,” she explained, “I know what I want to say.” 
Then to her horror she heard herself babbling nonsense, 
knowing it was nonsense though she could not hear 
what she was saying. The flicker of attention in the eye 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

near her vanished, the second interne went on tapping 
and listening, hissing softly under his breath. 

“I wish you’d stop whistling,” she said clearly. The 
sound stopped. “It’s a beastly tune,” she added. Any- 
thing, anything at all to keep her small hold on the life 
of human beings, a clear line of communication, no mat- 
ter what, between her and the receding world. “Please 
let me see Dr. Hildesheim,” she said, “I have something 
important to say to him. I must say it now.” The second 
(nteme vanished. He did not walk away, he fled into 
the air without a sound, and Dr. Hildesheim’s face ap- 
peared in his stead. 

“Dr. Hildesheim, I want to ask you about Adam.” 

“That young man? He’s been here, and left you a 
note, and has gone again,” said Dr. Hildesheim, “and 
he’ll be back tomorrow and the day after.” His tone 
was altogether too merry and flippant. 

“I don’t believe you,” said Miranda, bitterly, closing 
her lips and eyes and hoping she might not weep. 

“Miss Tanner,” called the doctor, “have you got that 

Miss Tanner appeared beside her, handed her an un- 
sealed envelope, took it back, unfolded the note and gave 
it to her. 

“I can’t see it,” said Miranda, after a pained search of 
the page full of hasty scratches in black ink. 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“Here, I’ll read it,” said Miss Tanner. “It says, ‘They 
came and took you while I was away and now they will 
not let me see you. Maybe tomorrow they will, with my 
love, Adam,’ ” read Miss Tanner in a firm dry voice, 
pronouncing the words distinctly. “Now, do you see?” 
she asked soothingly. 

Miranda, hearing the words one by one, forgot them 
one by one. “Oh, read it again, what does it say?” she 
called out over the silence that pressed upon her, reach- 
ing towards the dancing words that just escaped as she 
almost touched them. “That will do,” said Dr. Hilde- 
sheim, calmly authoritarian. “Where is that bed?” 

“There is no bed yet,” said Miss Tanner, as if she 
said. We are short of oranges. Dr. Hildesheim said, 
“Well, we’ll manage something,” and Miss Tanner drew 
the narrow trestle with bright crossed metal supports 
and small rubbery wheels into a deep jut of the corridor, 
out of the way of the swift white figures darting about, 
whirling and skimming like water flies all in silence. The 
white walls rose sheer as cliffs, a dozen frosted moons 
followed each other in perfect self-possession down a 
white lane and dropped mutely one by one into a snowy 

What is this whiteness and silence but the absence of 
pain? Miranda lay lifting the nap of her white blanket 
softly between eased fingers, watching a dance of tall 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

deliberate shadows moving behind a wide screen of 
sheets spread upon a frame. It was there, near her, on 
her side of the wall where she could see it clearly and 
enjoy it, and it was so beautiful she had no curiosity as 
to its meaning. Two dark figures nodded, bent, curtsied 
to each other, retreated and bowed again, lifted long 
arms and spread great hands against the white shadow 
of the screen; then with a single round movement, the 
sheets were folded back, disclosing two speechless men 
in white, standing, and another speechless man in white, 
lying on the bare springs of a white iron bed. The man 
on the springs was swathed smoothly from head to foot 
in white, with folded bands across the face, and a large 
stiff bow like merry rabbit ears dangled at the crown of 
his head. 

The two living men lifted a mattress standing hunched 
against the wall, spread it tenderly and exactly over the 
dead man. Wordless and white they vanished down the 
corridor, pushing the wheeled bed before them. It had 
been an entrancing and leisurely spectacle, but now it 
was over. A pallid white fog rose in their wake insin- 
uatingly and floated before Miranda’s eyes, a fog in 
which was concealed all terror and all weariness, all the 
wrung faces and twisted backs and broken feet of 
abused, outraged living things, all the shapes of their 
confused pain and their estranged hearts; the fog might 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

part at any moment and loose the horde of human tor- 
ments. She put up her hands and said, Not yet, not yet, 
hut it was too late. The fog parted and two executioners, 
white clad, moved towards her pushing between them 
with marvelously deft and practiced hands the mis- 
shapen figure of an old man in filthy rags whose scanty 
beard waggled under his opened mouth as he bowed his 
back and braced his feet to resist and delay the fate they 
had prepared for him. In a high weeping voice he was 
trying to explain to them that the crime of which he was 
accused did not merit the punishment he was about to 
receive; and except for this whining cry there was si- 
lence as they advanced. The soiled cracked bowls of 
the old man’s hands were held before him beseechingly 
as a beggar’s as he said, “Before God I am not guilty,” 
but they held his arms and drew him onward, passed, 
and were gone. 

The road to death is a long march beset with all evils, 
and the heart fails little by little at each new terror, the 
bones rebel at each step, the mind sets up its own bitter 
resistance and to what end? The barriers sink one by 
one, and no covering of the eyes shuts out the land- 
scape of disaster, nor the sight of crimes committed 
there. Across the field came Dr. Hildesheim, his face a 
skull beneath his German helmet, carrying a naked in- 
fant writhing on the point of his bayonet, and a huge 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

stone pot marked Poison in Gothic letters. He stopped 
before the well that Miranda remembered in a pasture 
on her father’s farm, a well once dry but now bubbling 
with living water, and into its pure depths he threw the 
child and the poison, and the violated water sank back 
soundlessly into the earth. Miranda, screaming, ran with 
her arms above her head; her voice echoed and came 
back to her like a wolf’s howl, Hildesheim is a Boche, a 
spy, a Hun, kill him, kill him before he kills you. . . . 
She woke howling, she heard the foul words accusing 
Dr. Hildesheim tumbling from her mouth; opened her 
eyes and knew she was in a bed in a small white room, 
with Dr. Hildesheim sitting beside her, two firm fingers 
on her pulse. His hair was brushed sleekly and his but- 
tonhole flower was fresh. Stars gleamed through the 
window, and Dr. Hildesheim seemed to be gazing at 
them with no particular expression, his stethoscope dan- 
gling around his neck. Miss Tanner stood at the foot of 
the bed writing something on a chart. 

“Hello,” said Dr. Hildesheim, “at least you take it out 
in shouting. You don’t try to get out of bed and go 
running around.” Miranda held her eyes open with a 
terrible effort, saw his rather heavy, patient face clearly 
even as her mind tottered and slithered again, broke 
from its foundation and spun like a cast wheel in a ditch. 
“I didn’t mean it, I never believed it. Dr. Hildesheim, 


Pale Horse, Pale Eider 

you musn’t remember it—” and was gone again, not be- 
ing able to wait for an answer. 

The wrong she had done followed her and haunted 
her dream: this wrong took vague shapes of horror she 
could not recognize or name, though her heart cringed 
at sight of them. Her mind, split in two, acknowledged 
and denied what she saw in the one instant, for across 
an abyss of complaining darkness her reasoning coherent 
self watched the strange frenzy of the other coldly, re- 
luctant to admit the truth of its visions, its tenacious re- 
morses and despairs. 

“I know those are your hands,” she told Miss Tanner, 
“I know it, but to me they are white tarantulas, don’t 
touch me.” 

“Shut your eyes,” said Miss Tanner. 

“Oh, no,” said Miranda, “for then I see worse things,” 
but her eyes closed in spite of her will, and the mid- 
night of her internal torment closed about her. 

Oblivion, thought Miranda, her mind feeling among 
her memories of words she had been taught to describe 
the unseen, the unknowable, is a whirlpool of gray water 
turning upon itself for all eternity . . . eternity is per- 
haps more than the distance to the farthest star. She lay 
on a narrow ledge over a pit that she knew to be bot- 
tomless, though she could not comprehend it; the ledge 
was her childhood dream of danger, and she strained 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

back against a reassuring wall of granite at her shoul- 
ders, staring into the pit, thinking, There it is, there it 
is at last, it is very simple; and soft carefully shaped 
words like oblivion and eternity are curtains hung be- 
fore nothing at all. I shall not know when it happens, 
I shall not feel or remember, why can’t I consent now, 
I am lost, there is no hope for me. Look, she told herself, 
there it is, that is death and there is nothing to fear. But 
she could not consent, still shrinking stiffly against the 
granite wall that Avas her childhood dream of safety, 
breathing slowly for fear of squandering breath, saying 
desperately, Look, don’t be afraid, it is nothing, it is only 

Granite walls, whirlpools, stars are things. None of 
them is death, nor the image of it. Death is death, said 
Miranda, and for the dead it has no attributes. Silenced 
she sank easily through deeps under deeps of darkness 
until she lay like a stone at the farthest bottom of life, 
knowing herself to be blind, deaf, speechless, no longer 
aware of the members of her own body, entirely with- 
drawn from all human concerns, yet alive with a pecul- 
iar lucidity and coherence; all notions of the mind, the 
reasonable inquiries of doubt, all ties of blood and the 
desires of the heart, dissolved and fell away from her, 
and there remained of her only a minute fiercely burn- 
ing particle of being that knew itself alone, that relied 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

upon nothing beyond itself for its strength; not sus- 
ceptible to any appeal or inducement, being itself com- 
posed entirely of one single motive, the stubborn will 
to live. This fiery motionless particle set itself unaided 
to resist destruction, to survive and to be in its own 
madness of being, motiveless and planless beyond that 
one essential end. Trust me, the hard unwinking angry 
point of light said. Trust me. I stay. 

At once it grew, flattened, thinned to a fine radiance, 
spread like a great fan and curved out into a rainbow 
through which Miranda, enchanted, altogether believ- 
ing, looked upon a deep clear landscape of sea and sand, 
of soft meadow and sky, freshly washed and glistening 
with transparencies of blue. Why, of course, of course, 
said Miranda, without surprise but with serene rapture 
as if some promise made to her had been kept long after 
she had ceased to hope for it. She rose from her narrow 
ledge and ran lightly through the tall portals of the great 
bow that arched in its splendor over the burning blue of 
the sea and the cool green of the meadow on either hand. 

The small waves rolled in and over unhurriedly, 
lapped upon the sand in silence and retreated; the grasses 
flurried before a breeze that made no sound. Moving 
towards her leisurely as clouds through the shimmering 
air came a great company of human beings, and Miranda 
saw in an amazement of joy that they were all the living 


Pale Horse, Pale Eider 

she had known. Their faces were transfigured, each in its 
own beauty, beyond what she remembered of them, 
their eyes were clear and untroubled as good weather, 
and they cast no shadows. They were pure identities 
and she knew them every one without calling their 
names or remembering what relation she bore to them. 
They surrounded her smootlily on silent feet, then 
turned their entranced faces again towards the sea, and 
she moved among them easily as a wave among waves. 
The drifting circle widened, separated, and each figure 
was alone but not solitary; Miranda, alone too, ques- 
tioning nothing, desiring nothing, in the quietude of her 
ecstasy, stayed where she was, eyes fixed on the over- 
whelming deep sky where it was always morning. 

Lying at ease, arms under her head, in the prodigal 
warmth which flowed evenly from sea and sky and 
meadow, within touch but not touching the serenely 
smiling familiar beings about her, Miranda felt without 
warning a vague tremor of apprehension, some small 
flick of distrust in her joy; a thin frost touched the edges 
of this confident tranquillity; something, somebody, was 
missing, she had lost something, she had left something 
trainable in another country, oh, what could it be? 
There are no trees, no trees here, she said in fright, I 
have left something unfinished. A thought struggled at 
the back of her mind, came clearly as a voice in her 


Tale Horse, Tale Rider 

ear. Where are the dead? We have forgotten the dead, 
oh, the dead, where are they? At once as if a curtain 
had fallen, the bright landscape faded, she was alone in a 
strange stony place of bitter cold, picking her way along 
a steep path of slippery snow, calling out. Oh, 1 must 
go back! But in what direction? Pain returned, a ter- 
rible compelling pain running through her veins like 
heavy fire, the stench of corruption filled her nostrils, 
the sweetish sickening smell of rotting flesh and pus; 
she opened her eyes and saw pale light through a coarse 
white cloth over her face, knew that the smell of death 
was in her own body, and struggled to lift her hand. 
The cloth was drawn away; she saw Miss Tanner filling 
a hypodermic needle in her methodical expert way, and 
heard Dr. Hildesheim saying, “I think that will do the 
trick. Try another.” Aliss Tanner plucked firmly at 
Miranda’s arm near the shoulder, and the unbelievable 
current of agony ran burning through her veins again. 
She struggled to cry out, saying. Let me go, let me go; 
but heard only incoherent sounds of animal suffering. 
She saw doctor and nurse glance at each other with the 
glance of initiates at a mystery, nodding in silence, their 
eyes alive with knowledgeable pride. They looked 
briefly at their handiwork and hurried away. 

Bells screamed all off key, wrangling together as they 
collided in mid air, horns and whistles mingled shrilly 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

with cries of human distress; sulphur colored light ex- 
ploded through the black window pane and flashed away 
in darkness. Miranda waking from a dreamless sleep 
asked without expecting an answer, “What is happen- 
ing?” for there was a bustle of voices and footsteps in 
the corridor, and a sharpness in the air; the far clamor 
went on, a furious exasperated shrieking like a mob in 

The light came on, and Miss Tanner said in a furry 
voice, “Hear that? They’re celebrating. It’s the Armi- 
stice. The war is over, my dear.” Her hands trembled. 
She rattled a spoon in a cup, stopped to listen, held the 
cup out to Miranda. From the ward for old bedridden 
women down the hall floated a ragged chorus of cracked 
voices singing, “My country, ’tis of thee . . .” 

Sweet land . . . oh, terrible land of this bitter world 
where the sound of rejoicing was a clamor of pain, 
where ragged tuneless old women, sitting up waiting for 
their evening bowl of cocoa, were singing, “Sweet land 
of Liberty—” 

“Oh, say, can you see?” their hopeless voices were 
asking next, the hammer strokes of metal tongues 
drowning them out. “The war is over,” said Miss Tan- 
ner, her underlip held firmly, her eyes blurred. Miranda 
said, “Please open the window, please, I smell death in 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

Now if real daylight such as I remember having seen 
in this world would only come again, but it is always 
twilight or just before morning, a promise of day that 
is never kept. What has become of the sun? That was 
the longest and loneliest night and yet it will not end 
and let the day come. Shall I ever see light again? 

Sitting in a long chair, near a window, it was in itself 
a melancholy wonder to see the colorless sunlight slant* 
ing on the snow, under a sky drained of its blue. “Can 
this be my face?” Miranda asked her mirror. “Are these 
my own hands?” she asked Miss Tanner, holding them 
up to show the yellow tint like melted wax glimmering 
between the closed fingers. The body is a curious mon- 
ster, no place to live in, how could anyone feel at home 
there? Is it possible I can ever accustom myself to this 
place? she asked herself. The human faces around her 
seemed dulled and tired, with no radiance of skin and 
eyes as A'liranda remembered radiance; the once white 
walls of her room were now a soiled gray. Breathing 
slowly, falling asleep and waking again, feeling the 
splash of water on her flesh, taking food, talking in bare 
phrases with Dr. Hildeshcim and Miss Tanner, Miranda 
looked about her with the covertly hostile eyes of an 
alien who docs not like the country in which he finds 
himself, does not understand the language nor wish to 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

learn it, does not mean to live there and yet is helpless, 
unable to leave it at his will. 

“It is morning,” Miss Tanner would say, with a sigh, 
for she had grown old and weary once for all in the 
past month, “morning again, my dear,” showing Mi- 
randa the same monotonous landscape of dulled ever- 
greens and leaden snow. She would rustle about in her 
starched skirts, her face bravely powdered, her spirit un- 
breakable as good steel, saying, “Look, my dear, what 
a heavenly morning, like a crystal,” for she had an affec- 
tion for the salvaged creature before her, the silent un- 
grateful human being whom she, Cornelia Tanner, a 
nurse who knew her business, had snatched back from 
death with her own hands. “Nursing is nine-tenths, just 
the same,” Miss Tanner would tell the other nurses; 
“keep that in mind.” Even the sunshine was Miss Tan- 
ner’s own prescription for the further recovery of Mi- 
randa, this patient the doctors had given up for lost, and 
who yet sat here, visible proof of Miss Tanner’s theory. 
She said, “Look at the sunshine, now,” as she might be 
saying, “I ordered this for you, my dear, do sit up and 
take it.” 

“It’s beautiful,” Miranda would answer, even turning 
her head to look, thanking Miss Tanner for her good- 
ness, most of all her goodness about the weather, “beau- 
tiful, I always loved it.” And I might love it again if I 


Pale Horse, Pale Eider 

saw it, she thought, but truth was, she could not see it. 
There was no light, there might never be light again, 
compared as it niust always be with the light she had 
seen beside the blue sea that lay so tranquilly along the 
shore of her paradise. That was a child’s dream of the 
heavenly meadow, the vision of repose that comes to a 
tired body in sleep, she thought, but I have seen it when 
I did not know it was a dream. Closing her eyes she 
would rest for a moment remembering that bliss which 
had repaid all the pain of the journey to reach it; open- 
ing them again she saw with a new anguish the dull 
world to which she was condemned, where the light 
seemed filmed over with cobwebs, all the bright sur- 
faces corroded, the sharp planes melted and formless, 
all objects and beings meaningless, ah, dead and with- 
ered things that believed themselves alive! 

At night, after the long effort of lying in her chair, 
in her extremity of grief for what she had so briefly 
won, she folded her painful body together and wept 
silently, shamelessly, in pity for herself and her lost rap- 
ture. There was no escape. Dr. Hildesheim, Miss Tan- 
ner, the nurses in the diet kitchen, the chemist, the sur- 
geon, the precise machine of the hospital, the whole 
humane conviction and custom of society, conspired to 
pull her inseparable rack of bones and wasted flesh to 
its feet, to put in order her disordered mind, and to set 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

her once more safely in the road that would lead her 
again to death. 

Chuck Rouncivale and Mary Townsend came to see 
her, bringing her a bundle of letters they had guarded 
for her. They brought a basket of delicate small hot- 
house flowers, lilies of the valley with sweet peas and 
feathery fern, and above these blooms their faces were 
merry and haggard. 

Mary said, “You have had a tussle, haven’t you?” 
and Chuck said, “Well, you made it back, didn’t you?” 
Then after an uneasy pause, they told her that every- 
body was waiting to see her again at her desk. “They’ve 
put me back on sports already, Miranda,” said Chuck. 
For ten minutes Miranda smiled and told them how 
gay and what a pleasant surprise it was to find herself 
alive. For it will not do to betray the conspiracy and 
tamper with the courage of the living; there is nothing 
better than to be alive, everyone has agreed on that; it 
is past argument, and who attempts to deny it is justly 
outlawed. “I’ll be back in no time at all,” she said; “this 
is almost over.” 

Her letters lay in a heap in her lap and beside her 
chair. Now and then she turned one over to read the 
inscription, recognized this handwriting or that, exam- 
ined the blotted stamps and the postmarks, and let them 
drop again. For two or three days they lay upon the 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

table beside her, and she continued to shrink from them. 
“They will all be telling me again how good it is to be 
alive, they will say again they love me, they are glad 
I am living too, and what can I answer to that?” and 
her hardened, indifferent heart shuddered in despair at 
itself, because before it had been tender and capable of 

Dr. Hildesheim said, “What, all these letters not 
opened yet?” and Miss Tanner said, “Read your letters, 
my dear. I’ll open them for you.” Standing beside the 
bed, she slit them cleanly with a paper knife. Miranda, 
cornered, picked and chose until she found a thin one 
in an unfamiliar handwriting. “Oh, no, now,” said Miss 
Tanner, “take them as they come. Here, I’ll hand them 
to you.” Site sat down, prepared to be helpful to the 

What a victory, what triumph, what happiness to be 
alive, sang the letters in a chorus. The names were signed 
with flourishes like the circles in air of bugle notes, and 
they were the names of those she had loved best; some 
of those she had known well and pleasantly; and a few 
who meant nothing to her, then or now. The thin letter 
in the unfamiliar handwriting was from a strange man 
at the camp where Adam had been, telling her that 
Adam had died of influenza in the camp hospital. Adam 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

had asked him, in case anything happened, to be sure 
to let her know. 

If anything happened. To be sure to let her know. If 
anything happened. “Your friend, Adam Barclay,” 
wrote the strange man. It had happened— she looked at 
the date— more than a month ago. 

“IVe been here a long time, haven’t I?” she asked 
Miss Tanner, who was folding letters and putting them 
back in their proper envelopes. 

“Oh, quite a while,” said Miss Tanner, “but you’ll 
be ready to go soon now. But you must be careful of 
|rourself and not overdo, and you should come back 
how and then and let us look at you, because sometimes 
the aftereffects are very—” 

Miranda, sitting up before the mirror, wrote care- 
fully; “One lipstick, medium, one ounce flask Bois 
d’Hiver perfume, one pair of gray suede gauntlets with- 
out straps, two pairs gray sheer stockings without 

Towney, reading after her, said, “Everything without 
something so that it will be almost impossible to get?” 

“Try it, though,” said Miranda, “they’re nicer with- 
out. One walking stick of silvery wood with a silver 

“That’s going to be expensive,” warned Towney. 
“Walking is hardly worth it.” 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

“You’re right,” said Miranda, and wrote in the mar- 
gin, “a nice one to match my other things. Ask Chuck 
to look for this, Mary. Good looking and not too 
heavy.” Lazarus, come forth. Not unless you bring me 
my top hat and stick. Stay where you are then, you 
snob. Not at all. I’m coming forth. “A jar of cold 
cream,” wrote Miranda, “a box of apricot powder— and, 
Mary, I don’t need eye shadow, do I?” She glanced at 
her face in the mirror and away again. “Still, no one 
need pity this corpse if we look properly to the art of 
the thing.” 

Mary Townsend said, “You won’t recognize your- 
self in a week.” 

“Do you suppose, Mary,” asked Miranda, “I could 
have my old room back again?” 

“That should be easy,” said Mary. “We stored away 
all your things there with Miss Hobbe.” Miranda won- 
dered again at the time and trouble the living took to be 
helpful to the dead. But not quite dead now% she reas- 
sured herself, one foot in either world now; soon I shall 
cross back and be at home again. The light will seem 
real and I shall be glad when I hear that someone I know 
has escaped from death. I shall visit the escaped ones and 
help them dress and tell them how lucky they are, and 
how lucky I am still to have them. Mary will be back 
soon with my gloves and my walking stick, I must go 


Pale Horse, Pale Rider 

now, I must begin saying good-by to Miss Tanner and 
Dr. Hildesheim. Adam, she said, now you need not die 
again, but still I wish you were here; I wish you had 
come back, what do you think I came back for, Adam, 
to be deceived like this? 

At once he was there beside her, invisible but urgently 
present, a ghost but more alive than she was, the last 
intolerable cheat of her heart; for knowing it was false 
she still clung to the lie, the unpardonable lie of her 
bitter desire. She said, “I love you,” and stood up trem- 
bling, trying by the mere act of her will to bring him 
to sight before her. If I could call you up from the 
grave I would, she said, if I could see your ghost I would 
say, I believe ... “I believe,” she said aloud. “Oh, let 
me see you once more.” The room was silent, empty, 
the shade was gone from it, struck away by the sudden 
violence of her rising and speaking aloud. She came to 
herself as if out of sleep. Oh, no, that is not the way, I 
must never do that, she warned herself. Miss Tanner 
said, “Your taxicab is waiting, my dear,” and there was 
Mary. Ready to go. 

No more war, no more plague, only the dazed silence 
that follows the ceasing of the heavy guns; noiseless 
houses with the shades drawn, empty streets, the dead 
cold light of tomorrow. Now there would be time for